Education and training statistics at regional level
- Data extracted in March and April 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: September 2018.
This article forms part of Eurostat’s annual flagship publication, the Eurostat regional yearbook. Education, vocational training and more generally lifelong learning play a vital role in the economic and social strategies of the European Union (EU). This article presents data following the natural progression through different levels of the education system (following the international standard classification of education (ISCED)) and also analyses transitions into the labour force, with data on: participation rates among four year-olds, students in vocational training, the proportion of early leavers from education and training, the share of young people neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET), the share of persons aged 30–34 with a tertiary level of educational attainment and employment rates of recent graduates.
- 1 Main statistical findings
- 1.1 Participation of four year-olds
- 1.2 Students in vocational upper secondary education
- 1.3 Europe 2020: early leavers from education and training
- 1.4 Young people neither in employment nor in education or training (NEETs)
- 1.5 Europe 2020: tertiary educational attainment
- 1.6 ET 2020: employment rate of recent graduates
- 2 Data sources and availability
- 3 Context
- 4 See also
- 5 Further Eurostat information
- 6 External links
Main statistical findings
- A majority of the regions in France and England (the United Kingdom) reported that practically all four year-olds participated in pre-primary or primary education in 2015.
- In four regions of the EU, more than three quarters of all upper secondary students participated in vocational education in 2015: Severozápad and Jihozápad in the Czech Republic, Oberösterreich in Austria, and Vzhodna Slovenija in Slovenia.
- In 2016, the share of early leavers (aged 18–24) from education and training stood at 10.7 % for the EU-28, which was 4.6 percentage points lower than 10 years earlier. There were very low shares of early leavers from education and training in several eastern regions of the EU.
- There were three regions in the EU where the NEET rate was over 40 % in 2016: Sicilia in Italy, the French overseas region of Guyane, and Severozapaden in Bulgaria.
- The highest regional employment rates in the EU in 2016 for recent graduates were in Zeeland and Utrecht in the Netherlands, while the lowest rates were in Campania, Sicilia and Calabria in Italy.
There is no harmonised concept of compulsory education in the EU Member States. Nevertheless, it is widely accepted that a basic level of education is desirable, so that everyone has the opportunity to participate in economic and social life, raising their chances of finding employment and reducing their risk of falling into poverty. In 2015, there were approximately 110 million children, pupils and students enrolled across all levels of education in the EU (ISCED levels 0–8), from early childhood education through to postgraduate studies.
Education and training 2020 and Europe 2020 targets
Each EU Member State is responsible for its own education and training policy. The EU supports national actions and helps address common challenges, such as skills deficits in the workforce or technological developments, through its education and training 2020 (ET 2020) framework. This provides a forum for sharing information and exchanging best practices through a series of working groups. ET 2020 has four common objectives: making lifelong learning and mobility a reality; improving the quality and efficiency of education and training; promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship; and enhancing creativity and innovation, including entrepreneurship.
As part of the ET 2020 framework, a number of EU benchmarks have been set for 2020:
- at least 95 % of children from the age of four to the compulsory school age should participate in early childhood education;
- the share of 15 year-olds with insufficient abilities in reading, mathematics and science should be less than 15 %;
- the share of early leavers (aged 18–24) from education and training should be less than 10 %;
- at least 40 % of people (aged 30–34) should have completed higher education;
- at least 15 % of adults (aged 25–64) should participate in lifelong learning initiatives;
- at least 20 % of higher education graduates should have had a period of higher education-related study or training (including work placements) abroad, representing a minimum of 15 European credit transfer and accumulation system (ECTS) credits or lasting a minimum of three months;
- at least 6 % of young people (aged 18–34) with an initial vocational education and training qualification should have had an initial vocational education and training (VET) related study or training period (including work placements) abroad lasting a minimum of two weeks;
- the share of employed students/graduates (aged 20–34) with an upper secondary or higher level of educational attainment and who left education between one and three years ago should be at least 82 %.
The Europe 2020 strategy also provides a set of targets which are designed to help achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in the EU. Education is one of five pillars which are central to the strategy, with two specific targets used to monitor the EU’s progress; both targets are also ET 2020 benchmarks and they are marked in the list above with an asterisk (*). Note that while these targets have been set for the EU as a whole, they have been translated into different national (and sometimes regional) targets, which reflect the situation/circumstances of each EU Member State (or region).
Figure 1 presents information for one of these targets, namely, the share of early leavers (aged 18–24) from education and training. Early leaver rates are often highest among children/young adults who: are at risk of poverty and social exclusion; have special educational needs; experience gender or family-related issues; or are from migrant backgrounds. Indeed, a wide range of socioeconomic factors may impact on vulnerable individuals from early childhood, reinforcing their cumulative disadvantage. Both the ET 2020 and the Europe 2020 strategy aim to reduce the proportion of early leavers from education and training to below 10 % by 2020. The latest data available shows that this ratio averaged 10.7 % across the EU-28 in 2016, which marked a reduction of 4.6 percentage points compared with a decade earlier (2006). Among young women, the share of early leavers in the EU-28 was below the target threshold, standing at 9.2 % in 2016, while the rate for young men was 3.0 percentage points higher, at 12.2 %. The gender gap between the sexes narrowed somewhat between 2006 and 2016, as the difference between the sexes had been 4.2 percentage points in 2006.
Most Europeans spend considerably more time in education than the legal minimum requirements and the second part of Figure 1 presents information on people aged 30–34 with a higher/tertiary level of educational attainment (as defined by ISCED levels 5–8). There was a relatively rapid increase in tertiary educational attainment reflecting policy initiatives to encourage more young people to remain within education and training (not only in academic studies, but also in apprenticeships/vocational training) and wider participation in lifelong learning initiatives; through lifelong learning, adults return to education or training and thereby (re)train/(re)equip themselves for a (different) career or interest. Both the ET 2020 and the Europe 2020 strategy aim to increase tertiary education attainment so it covers at least 40 % of the population aged 30–34 by 2020. The latest data show that this ratio averaged 39.1 % across the EU-28 in 2016, which marked an increase of 10.1 percentage points compared with a decade earlier (2006). The share of women (aged 30–34) with tertiary educational attainment in the EU-28 was above the target threshold, standing at 43.9 % in 2016, while the rate for men was 9.5 percentage points lower, at 34.4 %. The gender gap for this indicator widened between 2006 and 2016 as the difference between the sexes had been 5.3 percentage points in 2006.
An alternative analysis of educational attainment patterns across the EU-28 is presented in Figure 2. It shows the attainment of the working-age population — defined here as those aged 25–64 — by sex. The bottom end of this age range was set at 25 years as this is an age by which most students have completed their studies and have therefore generally reached their highest level of attainment. Using a younger age (for example, 20) would include many students that would still be studying and would therefore not yet have reached their highest level of attainment.
In the EU-28, almost half (46.3 %) of the working-age population had an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary level of educational attainment in 2016, while approximately three tenths (30.7 %) had a tertiary level of educational attainment, leaving slightly less than one quarter (23.0 %) of the working-age population with no more than a lower secondary level of educational attainment. It is noteworthy that the share of the subpopulation aged 30–34 with a tertiary level of educational attainment was 8.4 percentage points higher than the average for the whole of the working-age population (25–64 years) in 2016, providing further evidence of the recent rapid uptake of higher education opportunities by young people.
Figure 2 shows that during the period 2006–2016 there was a rapid reduction in the proportion of working-age people in the EU-28 with no more than a lower secondary level of educational attainment, while there was a corresponding increase in the proportion of working-age people with a tertiary level of educational attainment. This development was observed for both sexes, although the rates of change recorded for women were greater.
Participation of four year-olds
Early childhood and primary education play an essential role in tackling inequalities and raising proficiency in basic competences. The ET 2020 strategic framework has set a headline target, whereby at least 95 % of children between the age of four and the age for starting compulsory primary education should participate in early childhood education. Note the legal age for starting within the education systems of the EU Member States varies somewhat: compulsory education begins at age four in Luxembourg and Northern Ireland (the United Kingdom), while in other EU regions/Member States it starts between five and seven years of age. Enrolment in pre-primary education is generally voluntary across most of the Member States. Note also that these ratios are calculated on the basis of data from two distinct sources (regional education and demography statistics) and that some pupils enrolled in educational institutions might not be registered as residents in the same region (or at all) in the demographic data. As a consequence, ratios may be in excess of 100 %.
Defining early childhood and primary education
Early childhood education (ISCED level 0) is typically designed with a holistic approach to support children’s early cognitive, physical, social and emotional development and introduce young children to organised instruction outside of the family context. There are two subcategories of programmes covering early childhood education: early childhood educational development (level 01) and pre-primary education (level 02). While the former has educational content designed for younger children (in the age range of 0–2 years), the latter is designed for children between the ages of three and the start of primary education. Both categories are characterised by learning environments that are visually stimulating and language-rich, with at least two hours of teaching provision per day; in other words, crèches, day-care centres or nurseries are generally excluded (unless they have a specific educational component).
Primary education (ISCED level 1) programmes are typically designed to provide students with fundamental skills in reading, writing and mathematics (literacy and numeracy) and establish a solid foundation for learning and understanding core areas of knowledge, personal and social development. Age is typically the only entry requirement at this level of education.
In 2015, the vast majority (93.8 %) of four year-old children in the EU-28 were enrolled in some form of education. Nearly all of these attended pre-primary education, although a small share, mainly in Ireland or the United Kingdom, were enrolled in primary education.
A majority of the regions in France and England reported that practically all four year-olds participated in pre-primary or primary education
The darkest shade in Map 1 shows those NUTS level 2 regions where participation rates of four year-olds were particularly high. Note that data for Germany and the United Kingdom are presented for NUTS level 1 regions; only national data are available for Serbia. There were 43 out of 225 NUTS regions in the EU for which data are available where the participation rate of four year-olds in pre-primary and primary education was at least 99 % in 2015. The highest participation rates were concentrated in various regions of Belgium, France, southern Italy, Malta (a single region at this level of detail) and England (in the United Kingdom), while there were also high rates in three Spanish regions and one Danish region.
By contrast, Map 1 shows a very clear east–west split as participation rates were generally much lower in most eastern regions of the EU. There were 16 regions in the EU that were characterised by the lowest participation rates of four year-olds (below 70 %, as shown by the lightest shade): 10 out of the 13 regions in Greece (2014 data); both Croatian regions; two Polish regions; single regions from each of Slovakia and Finland. Looking in more detail, Attiki (the Greek capital city region) was the only region in the EU to record a participation rate for four year-olds in early pre-primary and primary education that was below 50 %. Outside of the EU, low participation rates were also recorded in every region of Turkey (2014 data) and all but one region (Ticino being the exception) in Switzerland, as well as in Liechtenstein and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (both single regions at this level of detail) and Serbia (national data).
Students in vocational upper secondary education
Vocational education and training (VET) is designed for students to acquire the knowledge, skills and competencies specific to a particular occupation or trade; it may have work-based components. More than 10 million upper secondary (ISCED level 3) students in the EU-28 participated in vocational education programmes in 2015, equivalent to 48.1 % of all upper secondary students; the remaining share participated in general programmes. A higher number of young men (than young women) were enrolled in vocational programmes as young men accounted for 56 % of all upper secondary education students participating in vocational programmes.
Defining upper secondary education
Upper secondary education (ISCED level 3) is typically designed to complete secondary education in preparation for tertiary education and/or to provide skills that are relevant for employment. These programmes offer students more varied, specialised and in-depth instruction and they are more differentiated (increased range of options and fields available), with teachers who are often specialised in the subjects or specialised fields they teach.
Upper secondary education generally begins after 8–11 years of formal education (from the beginning of primary education (ISCED level 1)), with students typically aged between 14 and 16 when entering this level; the programmes usually end when students are aged 17 or 18. Upper secondary education programmes may be either general or vocational in orientation.
Vocational education is increasingly considered as key to lowering youth unemployment rates and facilitating the transition of young people from education into work/the labour market. Attention has been given to ways to increase the attractiveness of vocational programmes and apprenticeships, so that these may offer an alternative route to general upper secondary and tertiary education and result in a better match with the skills employers look for.
Map 2 shows that the share of upper secondary students participating in vocational education programmes varied considerably across the EU Member States in 2015, with a particularly high specialisation in a cluster of regions covering the Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic as well as Belgium, the Netherlands and Finland. Some of these differences may be attributed to perceptions concerning vocational education and training: for example, in countries including the Czech Republic and Austria, vocational education and training is widely seen as an effective step that facilitates an individual’s transition into the labour market, whereas in some other EU Member States its role is often less developed, perhaps as a result of less positive societal perceptions.
More than three quarters of upper secondary students participated in vocational education programmes in four EU regions
There were 39 NUTS level 2 regions in the EU where the share of upper secondary students who participated in vocational education programmes in 2015 was at least 65 % (as shown by the darkest shade in Map 2). In four of these regions, in excess of three quarters of all upper secondary students participated in vocational education: two were in the Czech Republic — Severozápad (77.7 %) and Jihozápad (75.9 %) — and they were joined by the Austrian region of Oberösterreich (76.2 %) and the Slovenian region of Vzhodna Slovenija (75.1 %).
By contrast, vocational education programmes accounted for less than 35 % of upper secondary students in 32 regions of the EU (as shown by the lightest shade). Looking in more detail, the lowest shares were recorded for the two Irish NUTS level 2 regions (2013 data) and for Scotland, where vocational programmes covered less than 1 in 10 students. There were three regions where the share of students participating in vocational programmes was situated within the range of 10–20 %: the island regions of Malta and Cyprus (both single regions at this level of detail) and Közép-Magyarország (the capital city region of Hungary).
Europe 2020: early leavers from education and training
Young people between the ages of 15 and 17 are often faced with a difficult choice: to remain in education or training, or to look for a job. Full-time compulsory education lasts, on average, 9 or 10 years in most of the EU Member States and is generally completed at the end of lower secondary education (ISCED level 2). Early leavers from education and training are defined as the proportion of individuals aged 18–24 who have at most a lower secondary education (ISCED levels 0–2), and who are not engaged in any further education and training (during the four weeks preceding the labour force survey (LFS)). As noted above, this indicator is both an ET 2020 benchmark and a Europe 2020 target, the policy goal being to reduce the proportion of early leavers in the EU-28 to below 10 %.
The share of young people in the EU who were early leavers from education and training stood at 10.7 %
In 2016, the share of early leavers (aged 18–24) from education and training stood at 10.7 % for the EU-28; this was 0.3 percentage points lower than in 2015. Looking at developments over the last decade, the share of 18–24 year-olds who were early leavers from education and training fell each and every year, and was 4.6 percentage points lower in 2016 than it had been in 2006. As such, if these developments continue, the headline target may be reached.
That said, there remain considerable disparities in the share of early leavers both between and within the regions of the EU Member States. These are reflected, to some degree, in the national targets for this indicator; note there is no target for the United Kingdom. There were 17 Member States that recorded shares of early leavers in 2016 that were below 10 % with some of the lowest shares being recorded in eastern Europe. By contrast, there were several large Member States in southern and western Europe that recorded shares above the EU benchmark, namely, Germany (10.2 %), the United Kingdom (11.2 %), Italy (13.8 %) and Spain (19.0 %). The highest share of early leavers from education and training was recorded in Malta (19.6 %), while the lowest shares — below 5 % — were recorded in Slovenia, Lithuania and, in particular, Croatia (2.8 %).
Very low shares of early leavers from education and training in several eastern regions of the EU
Looking in more detail at regional developments for early leavers from education and training, Map 3 shows that approximately half of all regions in the EU recorded a rate that was below the benchmark target of 10 %. In 2016, 131 out of 264 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available recorded a share of less than 10 % (as shown by the two lightest shades in the map); among these, there were 21 regions that recorded early leaver shares that were below 5 % (the lightest shade). These regions with the lowest shares were principally distributed across eastern regions of the EU: seven regions from Poland, three regions from the Czech Republic, both regions from Croatia (data for Jadranska Hrvatska are for 2015), two regions from Slovakia (data for Bratislavský kraj are for 2013), and one of the two regions from Slovenia. Many of these regions characterised by having some of the lowest shares of early leavers were also regions with extensive vocational training programmes/apprenticeships for young people.
The remaining regions that recorded shares of less than 5 % included: two Greek regions (one of which was the capital city region), Lithuania (which is a single region at this level of detail), and single regions from each of Belgium, France and the United Kingdom (which was one of the two capital city regions, Inner London - East). Indeed, it was commonplace to find capital city regions and other urban areas recording relatively low shares of early leavers from education and training; this may reflect a number of factors, for example, greater opportunities and choice, the perception of future employment prospects, and the level of educational attainment among parents. By contrast, the proportion of young people who were early leavers from education and training was relatively high (compared with national averages) in the Belgian and German capital city regions.
The regions with the highest shares of early leavers from education and training were principally concentrated in the Iberian Peninsula, Bulgaria and Romania. There were 17 NUTS level 2 regions in the EU where, in 2016, upwards of one in five of the population aged 18–24 had left education and training with no more than a lower secondary level of attainment (as shown by the darkest shade in Map 3): eight of these regions were in Spain, three in Romania, two from each of Bulgaria and Portugal, and single regions from each of France (the overseas region of Guyane) and Italy (the island region of Sicilia). The latter two were examples of more general patterns, insofar as many island and peripheral regions recorded relatively high rates of early leavers when compared with other regions in the same EU Member State. Other examples of this pattern, with relatively high rates included: two island regions in Greece (Voreio Aigaio and Ionia Nisia (2014 data)), two island regions in Portugal (Regiões Autónomas dos Açores e da Madeira) and the partly island and peripheral region of Highlands and Islands (in Scotland, the United Kingdom). As such, many of the EU regions with the highest shares of early leavers from education and training were characterised as being relatively remote and/or sparsely populated and it may be the case that students living in these regions have to leave home if they wish to follow a particular specialisation, while those who remain are presented with relatively few opportunities for upper secondary or tertiary education. E-learning initiatives may prove useful for combatting high shares of early leavers in such regions (where access to education and training may be restricted), and that the introduction of more lengthy compulsory education could increase the employability of young people in several southern EU Member States (where high numbers of young people have relatively few qualifications).
Some of the largest ranges between the highest and lowest shares of early leavers across the different regions of a single EU Member State were observed in France and Spain. In France, the highest rates were generally recorded in the overseas regions, although there were also relatively high rates in a number of northern and eastern regions (for example, Nord - Pas-de-Calais, Champagne-Ardenne and Picardie). In Spain, the highest rates of early leavers from education and training were recorded in several southern, island and overseas regions, including Ciudades Autónomas de Ceuta y Melilla, Illes Balears, Región de Murcia and Andalucía, while many of the lowest rates were recorded in more northerly regions, especially the País Vasco and Cantabria (the only Spanish regions where the share of early leavers was below 10 %).
Young men were almost one third more likely than young women to be early leavers from education and training
Figure 3 presents information relating to the proportion of early leavers from education and training by sex. In 2016, the share of early leavers (aged 18–24) was considerably higher among young men, at 12.2 %, than it was for young women, as their share of 9.2 % was lower than the 10 % target in the ET 2020 and Europe 2020 strategies. Therefore, the gender gap for the EU-28 stood at 3.0 percentage points in 2016, which meant it fell during the last decade, as the share of early leavers among young men had been 4.2 percentage points higher than the share for young women in 2006.
The rate of early leavers from education and training was lower for young women than it was for young men in 168 out of the 207 NUTS level 2 regions for which data were available for 2016; there was a single region — Provincia Autonoma di Trento (Italy) — where early leaver rates were identical for young men and women, leaving 38 regions where the early leavers rate was lower for young men. Double-digit gender gaps were recorded for seven EU regions in 2016; in all of these cases the share of young men who were early leavers was higher than the corresponding share for young women. The biggest gaps were recorded in the Greek island region of Notio Aigaio (2013 data) and the Spanish island region of Illes Balears, while the remaining regions also included two further island regions — Sardegna (Italy) and Canarias (Spain) — as well as Aragón (Spain), Norte (Portugal) and Kent (the United Kingdom); in the last two regions the early leavers rate for young women was below 10 %. At the other end of the scale, the share of young women who were early leavers in East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire (the United Kingdom) was 5.6 percentage points higher than the corresponding share for young men; there were four other regions where this gap was greater than 4 points: South Yorkshire (also in the United Kingdom), Severozápad (Czech Republic), Ciudad Autónoma de Melilla (Spain) and Észak-Magyarország (Hungary).
Young people neither in employment nor in education or training (NEETs)
The share of young people (aged 18–24) in the EU-28 who were neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET), expressed in relation to the population of the same age, stood at 15.2 % in 2016. The latest NEET rate was almost identical to that recorded a decade earlier in 2006, when the rate had been 15.1 %. An analysis over time reveals that, during the interim, it first fell and then subsequently rose on the impact of the global financial and economic crisis to reach a relative peak of 17.2 % in 2012, after which there were four consecutive annual reductions.
Comparing youth unemployment and NEET rates
Youth unemployment and the proportion of young people who were neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET) are complementary concepts. The youth unemployment rate is a measure of those (aged 15–24) who are out of work, but have actively searched for work and are able to start work; it is based on the economically active population — those who are either in work or unemployed — as its denominator.
By contrast, the definition of those who were neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET) excludes those in employment, education or training, but may include not only the unemployed but also some economically inactive people. The NEET rate is based on a denominator that covers the whole cohort of 18–24 year-olds, not just those who are economically active. As such, the NEET rate may be preferred for analysing younger cohorts.
One of the key determinants that explains differences in NEET rates is low educational attainment. As such, regions characterised by relatively high rates of early leavers from education and training and relatively low rates of vocational training may be expected to display relatively high NEET rates. Government policies may also impact on NEET rates. For example, some administrations have decided to link social security benefits for young people to mandatory participation in further education and training schemes.
An analysis across the EU Member States shows that the highest proportion of young people who were neither in employment nor in education or training in 2016 was recorded in Italy (26.0 %), while the NEET rate was also above 20 % in Cyprus, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Croatia. By contrast, the proportion of young people who were neither in employment nor in education or training was as low as 6.1 % in the Netherlands, and was below 9 % in Denmark, Luxembourg, Malta and Sweden.
There were three regions in the EU where the proportion of young people neither in employment nor in education or training rose above 40 %
In 2016, there were 27 NUTS level 2 regions in the EU, among the 271 for which data are available, where the NEET rate was at least 25 % (as shown by the darkest shade in Map 4). The highest rates tended to be located in southern, eastern or overseas regions. The 10 highest rates were concentrated in southern Italy (Sicilia, Campania, Calabria and Puglia), three regions of Greece (Sterea Ellada, Peloponnisos and Notio Aigaio), the French overseas regions of Guyane and La Réunion, and the Bulgarian region of Severozapaden. The latter recorded the highest NEET rate (46.5 %) in the EU, followed by Guyane (44.7 %) and Sicilia (41.4 %). As such, those regions with some of the highest NEET rates were often characterised as being relatively rural or peripheral regions.
In western EU Member States, there were sometimes pockets of relatively high NEET rates, often located in urban areas characterised by a traditional specialisation in heavy industry. Examples include Prov. Hainaut in Belgium (20.3 %), the French regions of Picardie, Champagne-Ardenne and Nord - Pas-de-Calais (where NEET rates were over 20 %), or Tees Valley and Durham in the United Kingdom (where the NEET rate was 23.2 %).
Across the 271 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available in 2016, there were 69 regions where the NEET rate was less than 10 % (as shown by the lightest shade in Map 4). These regions were principally concentrated in Flemish regions of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and the United Kingdom, although there were also single regions with rates below 10 %, namely, Luxembourg, Malta (both single regions at this level of detail) and the capital city regions of Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia. Looking in more detail, the lowest NEET rate in 2016 was 2.7 %, recorded in the Czech capital city region. There followed four Dutch regions — Utrecht, Drenthe, Gelderland and Noord-Holland (which is the capital city region) — where NEET rates were within the range of 4.4–5.2 %.
Figure 4 provides a more detailed analysis of NEET rates analysed by sex. At an aggregated level, the EU-28 gender gap between NEET rates for young men and women (aged 18–24) was 1.0 percentage points, with a lower rate for young men. There was a relatively even split between the EU Member States, insofar as 13 recorded lower NEET rates for men and 15 recorded lower rates for women; the largest gaps (for both men and women) were recorded in the Baltic and eastern Member States.
The four presentations shown as part of Figure 4 provide information on the top five regions with the largest gender gaps (with lower rates for men and lower rates for women) and the five regions with the highest NEET rates for each of the sexes. NEET rates for young women in the Greek regions of Thessalia and Ionia Nisia were much lower (more than 10 percentage points) than the corresponding rates for men. Double-digit gender gaps — although with lower rates among young men — were recorded in four Romania regions (Sud-Est, Sud – Muntenia, Nord-Vest and Centru), in Észak-Magyarország (Hungary) and in Voreio Aigaio (Greece).
Europe 2020: tertiary educational attainment
There are a range of policy challenges in relation to tertiary (higher) education, among which: broadening access by increasing participation (especially among disadvantaged groups); reducing the number of students who leave tertiary education without a qualification; reducing the time it takes some individuals to complete their higher level of education; improving the quality of higher education by making degree courses more relevant for the world of work. Indeed, in an increasingly knowledge-based society, many jobs require a relatively high level of educational attainment, qualifications or specific skills. That said, concerns have been expressed that, with a rising proportion of the population obtaining a tertiary level of educational attainment, dynamic urban areas may increasingly be characterised by regional workforces that are overqualified, where some (possibly demotivated) people carry out jobs that require relatively low skills.
The tertiary educational attainment indicator is defined as the share of the population aged 30–34 who have successfully completed a tertiary education programme (for example, at a university or higher technical institution). The goal set by ET 2020 and Europe 2020 is to ensure that at least 40 % of 30–34 year-olds have completed a tertiary level of education by 2020. The age range of 30–34 year-olds is used as this generally refers to the first five-year age span where the vast majority of students have already completed their studies and have therefore been awarded their highest qualification.
Defining tertiary education Tertiary education (ISCED levels 5–8) builds on secondary education, providing learning activities in particular fields of education at a higher level of complexity. Tertiary education is offered by universities, vocational universities, institutes of technology and other institutions that award academic degrees or professional certificates. It includes short-cycle tertiary education programmes (ISCED level 5); bachelor’s or equivalent degree programmes (ISCED level 6); master’s or equivalent degree programmes (ISCED level 7); and doctoral or equivalent degree programmes (ISCED level 8). Students who wish to enter such programmes generally need to demonstrate that they have successfully completed secondary education, with qualification requirements dependent on the choice of subject and institution; it may, in some education systems, also be necessary to take an entrance examination.
The headline target for tertiary education attainment among people aged 30–34 years is 40 %
Tertiary educational attainment in the EU-28 rose rapidly from 23.6 % in 2002 (the start of the time series available for this EU aggregate), with gains being made in successive years throughout the period to 2016, when a rate of 39.1 % was recorded. Compared with a year before (2015), the share of 30–34 year-olds with tertiary education attainment in the EU-28 rose by 0.4 percentage points. The growth in tertiary educational attainment was particularly fast for young women, and the gender gap widened during the last decade. Across the EU-28, the share of young women with a tertiary level of educational attainment was 43.9 % in 2016, which was 9.5 percentage points higher than the share for young men (34.4 %).
Capital city regions act as a magnet for highly-qualified young people
In many capital cities a wide range of opportunities are available for higher education in general and specialised establishments. Consequently many capital cities attract people wanting to undertake tertiary education. Furthermore, capital cities are often chosen by large organisations (in both the public and private sectors) as the location for their headquarters, either as a matter of prestige or to benefit from economies of scale which may be present in some of the EU’s largest cities. The relatively high concentration of tertiary educational opportunities and business activity in capital city regions could, at least in part, explain the considerable number of people with tertiary education in these regions. The attraction of capital city regions has the potential to create labour market imbalances whereby an increasing share of graduates move to capital cities in search of work, even if this means (at least initially) accepting work for which they are over-qualified, thereby displacing the local workforce. These patterns may be of particular concern in EU Member States which are characterised by a monocentric pattern of economic developments, where a large part of the national economy is concentrated in the capital city and its surrounding regions. Large movements of labour have the potential to result in skills’ shortages and lower levels of economic activity in other regions.
Map 5 shows tertiary educational attainment for people aged 30–34 across NUTS level 2 regions in 2016; the most qualified regional workforces are shown in the darkest shade, which denotes those regions where at least 50 % of this age cohort possessed a tertiary level of educational attainment. As such, this indicator may reflect to some extent the attractiveness (or ‘pull effects’) of regions with respect to the employment opportunities that they offer higher education graduates as well as simply reflecting the supply of people with higher education.
An analysis by NUTS level 2 regions reveals that by far the highest proportion of persons aged 30–34 with a tertiary level of educational attainment was recorded in one of the two capital city regions of the United Kingdom: some 84.9 % of all young people in Inner London - West in 2016 had attained a tertiary level of education. The second, third and fourth highest shares were also recorded in the United Kingdom, namely in: North Eastern Scotland (76.5 %), the second capital city region of Inner London - East (70.3 %), and Outer London - South (66.2 %). Outside of the United Kingdom, the next highest share (63.5 %) in the EU was recorded for the Danish capital city region.
In total, 16 or the 35 regions in the EU where the share of young people with a tertiary education attainment reached at least 50 % (shown with the darkest shade in Map 5) were capital city regions. Away from capital city regions, some of the regions that reported high shares of young people with a tertiary level of educational attainment included many with science parks, technology clusters and/or high research and development expenditure, such as Eastern Scotland, South Western Scotland, Cheshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire (all in the United Kingdom), Prov. Brabant Wallon, Prov. Vlaams-Brabant (both in Belgium), Utrecht (the Netherlands), País Vasco or Comunidad Foral de Navarra (both in Spain).
The high number of capital city regions where at least half of people aged 30–34 had a tertiary level of educational attainment reflects the fact that, among the 22 multi-regional EU Member States, there were only five — Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands — where the capital city region failed to record the highest share of tertiary educational attainment. Even in these five cases, the share in the capital city region was above the national average.
Lower levels of tertiary educational attainment may be linked to an emphasis on vocational education
The share of tertiary educational attainment was below 20 % (as shown by the lightest shade of orange in Map 5) in six regions that were mainly located in southern or eastern regions of the EU. They were generally characterised by their traditional reliance on heavy industries (for example, chemicals or iron and steel) or agriculture. Two of the regions were in the south of Italy (Campania and Sicilia), two were from the east of Romania (Nord-Est and Sud - Muntenia), one was in the north-west of Bulgaria (Severozapaden) and the final one was Sachsen-Anhalt in eastern Germany. The lowest share of tertiary educational attainment among people aged 30–34 was 16.3 % in the Romanian Nord-Est region.
Aside from these regions, the level of tertiary educational attainment was also relatively low (at least 20 % but below 30 %) in several regions from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia, as well as overseas regions of France and Spain. In some EU Member States, this may, at least in part, be attributed to a particular emphasis placed on vocational education (see Map 2) which leads to professional qualifications rather than academic ones.
ET 2020: employment rate of recent graduates
Increasing youth employability is an integral part of the ET 2020 strategy to enhance employability as a whole through education and training in order to meet current and future labour market challenges. In 2012, a benchmark on the employability of graduates from education and training was established with a view to monitor better the contribution of education and training to the transition to employment. The target is that, by 2020, 82 % of recent young graduates should be in employment.
Defining the employment rate of recent graduates
This indicator is focused on young people aged 20-34 who successfully completed their highest educational attainment within the previous 1–3 years, where that level of attainment was upper-secondary education, post-secondary non-tertiary education, or tertiary education and who did not receive any education or training in the four weeks preceding the survey. The indicator shows the employment rate, in other words the proportion of people meeting the age and education criteria (as specified above) who were employed.
The employment rate of recent graduates in the EU-28 rose unevenly from 76.5 % in 2002 (the start of the time series available for this indicator) to 82.0 % in 2008. The rate fell, as did the overall employment rate, as the impact of the global financial and economic crisis was felt in labour markets, dropping to 75.4 % in 2013. Thereafter the rate started to increase again, reaching 78.2 % by 2016. Compared with 2015, the employment rate of recent graduates in the EU-28 rose by 1.3 percentage points in 2016.
Highest regional employment rates for recent graduates in Dutch regions and lowest in Italian regions
The highest regional employment rates for recent graduates in the EU were observed in Drenthe in the Netherlands and North Eastern Scotland (2015 data; low reliability) in the United Kingdom, both 100 %. These were followed by the Dutch region of Zeeland, Malta (one region at this level of detail), Inner London - West (one of the British capital city regions), Praha (the Czech Capital city region), and three more British regions (Hampshire and Isle of Wight; Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire; and Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire), all with rates above 95 %.
Generally, capital city regions reported relatively high employment rates for recent graduates in 2016, with these regions recording the highest rates in six of the 22 multi-regional EU Member States. One notable exception to this general pattern was Austria, as Wien recorded the lowest regional employment rate for recent graduates in Austria.
A total of 125 regions in the EU-28 recorded employment rates for recent graduates that were 82 % or higher in 2016: these are shown by the two darkest shades in Map 6. This group included all German, Dutch and Swedish regions, nearly all of the Austrian regions (not Wien), more than half of the Czech, Danish, Hungarian and British regions, all of the Flemish regions in Belgium, five regions in Poland, as well as Lithuania, Luxembourg and Malta (all single regions at this level of detail). This concentration in regions of several northern and western EU Member States generally reflects their relatively high national employment rates (although this was not the case in Belgium). Apart from Malta, only one other region from a southern Member State figured in this list, Ciudad Autónoma de Ceuta in Spain (2013 data, low reliability). The other regions with employment rates for recent graduates that were above 82 % in 2016 were Pays de la Loire in France and the capital city regions of Slovakia and Finland.
By contrast, all 13 regions in the EU where rates were below 50 % were in Greece or southern Italy, with the lowest of all, 29.1 %, in the Greek region of Peloponnisos (low reliability). The 62 regions in the EU where the rate was below 70 % (those shown with the lightest shade in Map 6) included all 13 Greek regions, 18 of the 21 Italian regions, 10 French regions, seven Spanish regions, four regions each from Bulgaria and Romania, two regions each from Poland and the United Kingdom, and a single region each from Croatia and Portugal.
Data sources and availability
As the structure of education systems varies from one country to another, a framework for assembling, compiling and presenting regional, national and international education statistics is a prerequisite for the comparability of data; this is provided by the international standard classification of education (ISCED). The ISCED framework is occasionally updated in order to reflect new developments in education systems worldwide. ISCED 2011 provides the basis for the statistics presented in this article: it was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in November 2011 and included new categories in recognition of the expansion of early childhood education and the restructuring of tertiary education. It classifies educational programmes and qualifications as: early childhood education (level 0); primary education (level 1); lower secondary education (level 2); upper secondary education (level 3); post-secondary non-tertiary education (level 4); short-cycle tertiary education (level 5); bachelor’s or equivalent level (level 6); master’s or equivalent level (level 7); doctoral or equivalent level (level 8).
For more information:
International standard classification of education (ISCED 2011)
UNESCO/OECD/Eurostat (UOE) statistics
Most EU education statistics are collected as part of a jointly administered exercise that involves the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UNESCO-UIS), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Eurostat, often referred to as the UOE data collection exercise; data on regional enrolments and foreign language learning are collected separately by Eurostat. The UOE data collection exercise is principally based on administrative sources, as provided by education ministries or national statistical authorities. Reference periods are the calendar year for data on graduates and the school/academic year for all other non-monetary data.
For more information:
Labour force survey
The EU’s labour force survey (LFS) provides data on early leavers from education and training, NEETs, data on the population by educational attainment level, as well as employment rates of recent graduates. It covers the total population of individuals living in private households and is updated twice a year during the spring (with information for a new reference year) and the autumn. LFS data for Estonia and Austria has a level shift (a break in series) in 2014.
For more information:
EU’s labour force survey (LFS)
The data presented in this article are based exclusively on the 2013 version of NUTS. Information is generally presented for NUTS level 2 regions, although data on participation rates are only available for NUTS level 1 regions for Germany and the United Kingdom, while for Croatia only national data are available.
Glossary entries on Statistics Explained are available for a wide range of education and training concepts/indicators, including: early leavers from education and training, the international standard classification of education (ISCED) which defines among others pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education, young people neither in employment nor in education and training (NEET) and vocational education and training (VET).
For more information:
Dedicated section on education and training
Education and training are crucial for both economic and social progress. Aligning skills with labour market needs plays a key role and is increasingly important in a globalised and knowledge-driven economy, where a skilled workforce is necessary to compete in terms of productivity, quality, and innovation. Each EU Member State is largely responsible for its own education and training systems and the content of its teaching programmes (curricula). The EU supports national actions and helps Member States to address common challenges through what is known as the ‘open method of coordination’: it offers a policy forum for discussing topical issues (for example, ageing societies, skills deficits, or global competition) and provides Member States with an opportunity to exchange best practices.
A strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020) was set out by the Council of the European Union (2009/C 119/02) in May 2009. This framework comprises four strategic objectives for education and training: making lifelong learning and mobility a reality; improving the quality and efficiency of education and training; promoting equality, social cohesion and active citizenship; and enhancing creativity and innovation (including entrepreneurship) at all levels of education and training. To reach these objectives, ET 2020 set a number of benchmarks to be achieved by 2020 and these are subject to regular statistical monitoring and reporting. Further details are provided in the Box titled ‘Education and training 2020 and Europe 2020 targets’. Drawing on this work, the European Commission made a proposal for six new priorities covering the period 2016–2020. These were adopted in November 2015 and concern:
- relevant and high-quality knowledge, skills and competences developed through lifelong learning, focusing on learning outcomes for employability, innovation, active citizenship and well-being;
- inclusive education, equality, equity, non-discrimination and the promotion of civic competences;
- open and innovative education and training, including by fully embracing the digital era;
- strong support for teachers, trainers, school leaders and other educational staff;
- transparency and recognition of skills and qualifications to facilitate learning and labour mobility;
- sustainable investment, quality and efficiency of education and training systems.
For more information:
Strategic framework — education and training 2020 (ET 2020)
Joint report of the Council and the Commission on the implementation of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020) — New priorities for European cooperation in education and training
- Education and training in the EU — facts and figures (online publication)
Further Eurostat information
- Almost half of upper secondary pupils in the EU enrolled in vocational education — News release July 2016
- Eurostat regional yearbook
- Key data on education in Europe — 2012 edition
- Key Data on Early Childhood and Care in Europe — Eurydice and Eurostat Report — 2014 Edition
- More and more persons aged 30 to 34 with tertiary educational attainment in the EU — News release April 2016
- Regional education statistics (t_reg_educ)
- Participation in education and training (t_educ_part)
- Participation rates of 4-years-olds in education by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00092)
- Education and training outcomes (t_educ_outc)
- Tertiary educational attainment, age group 30-34 by sex and NUTS 1 regions (tgs00105)
- Tertiary educational attainment, age group 25-64 by sex and NUTS 2 regions (tgs00109)
- Early leavers from education and training (tsdsc410)
- Early leavers from education and training by sex and NUTS 1 regions (tgs00106)
- Regional education statistics (reg_educ)
- Participation in education and training (educ_part)
- Pupils and students - enrolments (educ_uoe_enr)
- All education levels (educ_uoe_enra)
- Pupils and students - enrolments (educ_uoe_enr)
- Education and training outcomes (educ_outc)
- Educational attainment level (edat)
- Population by educational attainment level (edat1)
- Transition from education to work (edatt)
- Young people by educational and labour status (incl. neither in employment nor in education and training - NEET) (edatt0)
- Early leavers from education and training (edatt1)
- Educational attainment level (edat)
Methodology / Metadata
- Regional education statistics (ESMS metadata file — reg_educ_esms)
Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)
- European Commission — EACEA — Eurydice — Description of national education systems
- European Commission — Education and Training — Strategic framework — Education & Training 2020
- European Commission — Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion — New skills for new jobs
- European Commission — Regional Policy — Inforegio — Education and training
- Eurydice — Qualitative information about school systems in the EU Member States