Canada is one of the most well-educated countries in the world, with more than half our adult citizens holding a college diploma or university degree, a new report from the OECD finds.

But our country’s students also pay some of the highest tuition fees of all OECD countries and other countries’ education rates are beginning outpace ours.

The annual review of education systems around the world from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development finds that Canada continues to lead when it comes to overall post-secondary education attainment.

Just over 50 per cent of Canadians have earned degrees or diplomas -- the highest rate among all OECD countries. That compares to 42 per cent in the United States and 29 per cent in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. It also ranks well ahead of the OECD average of 32 per cent.

A full 27 per cent of Canadians have university qualifications, compared to an OECD average of only 23 per cent.

But Andrew Parkin, director general of the Canada’s Council of the Ministers for Educations, notes that when it comes to young adults with post-secondary credentials (those between the ages of 25 and 34), Canada is in third place, behind Korea and Japan.

“A number of countries are really putting an emphasis catching up,” he told CTV News Channel. “In countries like Korea and Japan, their older citizens are not as well educated as older Canadians, but their younger ones are starting to leap ahead. It’s the growing recognition around the world of the importance of education,” he said.

Parkin says the reason Canada fares so well on measures of higher education is because of the structure of our post-secondary system.

“While we’re above average on the university side, we’re way ahead on the college side. So it’s the fact that we have such a strong system of community colleges and CEGEPs that’s really contributing to our overall top score.”

And unlike other countries, such the United Kingdom, Canada’s high-school system doesn’t break students into education groups based on their potential for going to university.

“We tend to have a system that focuses on the success and the potential of every student. We don’t tend to stream students at an early state among those who might go on to other academic interests education and those who might not,” he said.

“We focus on finding a pathway to higher education for as many students as possible. And I think that really pays off.”

The report also notes the many benefits of attaining higher education – including the ability to weather recession and hold onto jobs.

In Canada, the unemployment rate for people with a college or university degree was around five per cent in 2011, compared to 11.7 per cent for those without a postsecondary degree.

In Canada, adults with post-secondary education also tend to earn on average approximately 59 per cent more than those who have below upper-secondary credentials.

As well, those with a college or university degree tend to have better health habits. They are significantly less likely to smoke compared to those with only a below upper-secondary education, and they are also less likely to be obese.

Only 16.5 per cent of Canadians with tertiary education smoke, 16.6 are obese; among Canadians with below upper-secondary education, 41 per cent smoke and 26.4 per cent are obese.

The report noted, though, that Canadian students pay some of the highest tuition fees of all OECD countries. Canadian public universities charged an average of $4,288 in undergraduate tuition per year in the program in 2011.

Canada spends 6.6 per cent of its gross domestic product on education, from pre-kindergarten through the university level, including both public and private spending, the report found.

The United States spends 7.3 per cent of GDP on education, but the report found that much of that money flows to the wealthiest students, and the country trails other countries in performances on international exams.

Some other highlights from the 2013 edition of Education at a Glance:

• Students from China represent by far the largest group of international students studying at Canadian institutions, accounting for 24.7 per cent of the country's total international student population.

• Primary students in Canada had an average of 919 hours per year of total instruction time in 2011. That’s significantly higher than the OECD average of 791 hours per year.

• Canadian lower-secondary students had an average of 923 hours, just slightly above the OECD average of 907.