What is it?
As part of the Europe 2020 strategy, EU leaders have agreed a target that 40% of those aged 30-34 should have a higher education or equivalent qualification by 2020. In order to achieve this EU-level "headline" target, EU countries have set their own national attainment targets to be reached by 2020. These targets are measured by eight headline indicators, which contribute to the development of evidence based policies.
Why is it needed?
Low tertiary or equivalent education attainment levels, in particular in comparison with international levels (comparable data for the number of tertiary education graduates show that the US, Canada, Japan, Korea, and Australia out-perform Europe), can hinder competitiveness and undermine Europe’s potential to generate smart growth. While European labour market projections indicate that around 35 % of all jobs will require tertiary graduate-level qualifications by 2020, only 27.6 % of the EU’s labour force (aged 25-64) was qualified at this level in 2012.
What has been done so far?
EU countries have set national targets for higher education attainment and each year they report on the actions they have taken to meet these targets as part of a yearly cycle of economic policy coordination called the European Semester. As part of this process, the European Commission undertakes a detailed analysis of EU countries' programmes of economic and structural reforms and, where necessary, provides them with recommendations for the next 12-18 months.
In general, EU countries face three main challenges in raising higher education attainment levels:
- Broadening access to higher education: increasing participation and completion in higher education by groups in society that are currently under-represented
- Reducing drop-out rates and the time it takes to complete a degree
- Improving the quality of higher education and making it more relevant, to be able to attract more students and help them successfully complete their studies
The European Commission monitors the challenges related to higher education attainment in EU countries, as well as the progress made towards reaching the attainment target.