Member States must work harder if they are to meet the Europe 2020 education targets to reduce early school leaving rates to less than 10% and increase the share of young people with degree-level qualifications to at least 40%, according to figures for 2011 released by Eurostat.
They show that Member States are making progress, but wide disparities remain and it is far from certain that the EU will meet its 2020 goals: The share of early school leavers now stands at 13.5%, down from 14.1% in 2010 and from 17.6% in 2000. In 2011, 34.6% of 30-34 year olds in the EU had a degree, compared to 33.5% in the previous year and 22.4% in 2000.
Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, said: "Member States need to focus on reforms and step up their efforts to implement comprehensive strategies against early school leaving. They need to boost access to higher education while also increasing its quality. Equipping young people with the right skills and qualifications will help Europe to fight youth unemployment, to overcome the crisis and make the most of the opportunities created by the knowledge-based economy. Serious investment in education and training is a pre-requisite for long-term success: without proper funding Europe will not win the global battle for growth, jobs and competitiveness."
Although the latest figures highlight progress towards both targets, the Commission is concerned that this is not a result of reforms which will have a long-term impact but rather a by-product of high youth unemployment which means more young people are staying longer in education and training. Another concern is that national targets set by Member States are not sufficient for the EU to meet its joint overall target.
On early school leaving, defined as the share of 18-24 year olds with only lower secondary education qualifications at best and who are no longer in education or training, 11 Member States have surpassed the 10% benchmark. Malta (33.5%), Spain (26.5%) and Portugal (23.2%) have the highest rates of school drop-outs, but have made a lot of progress in recent years. Other Member States that have reduced early school leaving include Cyprus (11.2%), Latvia (11.8%) and Bulgaria (12.8%).
13 Member States have higher education attainment rates above the 40% headline target. Among those with lower attainment levels, Slovenia (37.9%), Latvia (35.7%), Hungary (28.1%), Portugal (26.1%), the Czech Republic (23.8%) and Romania (20.4%) all saw year-on-year increases of over two percentage points. In contrast, Greece (28.9%), Austria (23.8%) and Italy (20.3%) achieved increases of only half a percentage point or less and Bulgaria (27.3%) and Malta (21.1%) registered a fall in their higher education attainment rate. Poland (36.9%), Germany (30.7%) and Slovakia (23.4%) recorded modest increases in the same period.
The figures were compiled by Eurostat as part of the Labour Force Survey, which provides data on the situation and trends in the EU labour market, including participation and attainment in education. In June 2011, Member States committed themselves to developing evidence-based and comprehensive national strategies to reduce early school leaving by the end of 2012.