Educational attainment statistics

Data extracted in June 2017. Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: June 2018.

This article provides recent statistics on levels of education by country, age group and sex of the population of the European Union (EU), EFTA and candidate countries and forms part of an online publication on education and training.

Table 1: Share of the population by level of educational attainment, by selected age groups and country, 2016
(%)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfs_9903)
Figure 1: Population aged 30–34 with tertiary educational attainment (ISCED 5–8), by country, 2016
(%)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_03)
Figure 2: Population aged 30-34 with tertiary educational attainment (ISCED 5-8), by sex, EU-28, 2006-16
(%)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_03)
Table 2: Population aged 20–24 having completed at least upper secondary education (ISCED 3), by sex and country, 2016
(%)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_03)

The level of educational attainment is defined according to the International standard classification of education (ISCED) . The educational attainment level of an individual is the highest ISCED level successfully completed.

Educational attainment levels are usually presented for three main categories:

  • Less than primary, primary and lower secondary education (ISCED 2011 levels 0-2)
  • Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED 2011 levels 3 and 4)
  • Tertiary education (ISCED 2011 levels 5-8)

This article also highlights the share of the population having completed at least upper secondary education, i.e. anyone with ISCED 2011 levels 3-8.

Main statistical findings

Level of educational attainment by age and sex

Educational attainment levels of the population have improved significantly over the last thirty years. In 2016, 79.6 % of people aged 25–54 in the EU-28 had attained at least an upper secondary level of education, compared with 63.7 % of those aged 55–74. Those with tertiary educational attainment amounted to 33.4 % of those aged 25–54 and 20.6 % of those aged 55–74 (see Table 1).

The Europe 2020 strategy sets a number of headline targets, including one for tertiary education, namely that by the year 2020 the proportion of 30–34 year-olds with tertiary educational attainment should be at least 40 %. In 2016, 39.1 % of the population aged 30–34 in the EU-28 had completed tertiary education (see Figure 1).

In 18 EU Member States this proportion was already 40 % or more in 2016; this was also the case in Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. In contrast, the lowest shares of those having completed tertiary education were observed in Romania, Italy, Croatia and Malta, as well as in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey, where the proportion of persons with tertiary educational attainment was below 30 %. National targets vary from 66 % in Luxembourg to 26 % in Italy; 13 countries have already achieved their national targets.

For the EU-28 as a whole, women already reached the Europe 2020 headline target in 2012 (with a proportion of 40.2 % of women having completed tertiary education that year in the EU-28). Tertiary educational attainment for men in this age group stood at 34.4 % in 2016. The share of men with tertiary education has increased over the last ten years but at a slower pace than for women, leading to a broader gender gap (see Figure 2).

Data on educational attainment also show that, in 2016, more than four fifths (83.2 %) of the EU-28 population aged 20–24 had completed at least an upper secondary level of education (i.e. ISCED level 3 and above), a figure that reached 85.6 % for women (see Table 2).

On the other hand, 10.7 % of young people aged 18–24 (12.2 % of men and 9.2 % of women) had at most completed lower secondary education but were yet no longer in education and training in 2016. A headline target is set by the EU to decrease this rate to less than 10 % by 2020 within the Europe 2020 strategy. This rate is commonly called 'early leavers from education and training'.

The national target level for this indicator has already been reached by 15 EU Member States in 2016. However, the share of early leavers from education and training is still high in Malta (19.6 %), Spain (19.0 %) and Romania (18.5 %).

Data sources and availability

Statistics on the level of the educational attainment of the population are based on the EU Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS). The EU-LFS results cover the total population usually residing in Member States, except for persons living in collective or institutional households.

For data on educational attainment based on the EU Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) the International Standard Classification of Education 2011 (ISCED 2011) is applied as from 2014. Up to 2013 ISCED 1997 is used.

Eurostat’s online database presents data on educational attainment for three aggregates:

  • Less than primary, primary and lower secondary education (ISCED levels 0-2)
  • Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED levels 3 and 4)
  • Tertiary education (ISCED 2011 levels 5-8, ISCED 1997 levels 5 and 6)

At this level of aggregation data are comparable over time for all available countries except Austria and Estonia.

Context

Educational attainment is the visible output of education systems and a measure of their success. For individuals, achievement levels have a major impact, both personally and professionally, on the quality of life and job opportunities. The level of educational attainment people reach is measured according to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED).

See also

Further Eurostat information

Data visualisation

Publications

Main tables

Educational attainment and outcomes of education (t_educ_outc)

Database

Educational and training outcomes (educ_outc)
Population by educational attainment level (edat1)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

External links