England's tuition-fee reforms of 2006 produced the most "advanced" student-support system of any developed nation and have not deterred poorer students, while low-fee nations such as France, Spain and Italy are performing poorly.
Those were the among the messages from analysis by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, accompanying its latest survey of educational statistics in its 34 member states.
The annual report, Education at a Glance 2012, which mainly looks back to data from 2009, shows that the US lost its lead as the biggest spender on higher education.
The US spent 2.6 per cent of its gross domestic product on higher education institutions in 2009, down from 2.8 per cent in 2005. Drawing level was South Korea, which also spent 2.6 per cent, up from 2.3 per cent in 2005. Close behind was Chile, spending 2.5 per cent (2010 figures), up from 1.8 per cent in 2005.