Learning mobility statistics

Data extracted in December 2015 and February 2016. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: December 2016.

This article presents statistics on the mobility of tertiary education students in the European Union (EU) and forms part of an online publication on education and training in the EU. The article focuses on tertiary education students who are internationally mobile. In theory, this concerns students studying in an EU Member State who completed their secondary education elsewhere (regardless of whether this was in another EU Member State or in a non-member country); in practice, a number of different criteria are used, notably the country of usual or previous residence, or citizenship. The first part of the analysis focuses on tertiary students and the second part on tertiary graduates, with a brief final analysis comparing the number of students with the number of graduates.

Table 1: Number of tertiary education students from abroad, 2013 (1)
(number)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_mobs02)
Figure 1: Share of tertiary education students from abroad, 2013 (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_mobs02) and (educ_uoe_enrt01)
Figure 2: Distribution of tertiary education students from abroad by continent, 2013 (1)
(% of all tertiary education students from abroad)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_mobs02) and (educ_momo_orig)
Table 2: Share of tertiary education students from abroad by country of origin for the three largest partner countries, 2013 (1)
(% of all tertiary education students from abroad)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_mobs02) and (educ_momo_orig)
Table 3: Share of tertiary education students from abroad by field, 2013
(%)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_mobs01) and (educ_uoe_enrt03)
Table 4: Number of tertiary education graduates from abroad, 2013 (1)
(number)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_mobg02)
Figure 3: Share of tertiary education graduates from abroad, 2013 (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_mobg02) and (educ_uoe_grad01)
Figure 4: Distribution of tertiary education graduates from abroad by continent, 2013 (1)
(% of all tertiary education students from abroad)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_mobg02)
Table 5: Share of tertiary education graduates from abroad by country of origin for the three largest partner countries, 2013 (1)
(% of all tertiary education students from abroad)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_mobg02)
Table 6: Share of tertiary education graduates from abroad by field, 2013 (¹)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_mobg01) and (educ_uoe_grad03)
Figure 5: Ratio of tertiary education graduates from abroad to tertiary education students from abroad, 2013 (1)
(%)
Source: Eurostat (educ_uoe_mobs02) and (educ_uoe_mobg02)

Main statistical findings

Number and share of students from abroad

Based on the available data (see Table 1), around 1.45 million people undertaking tertiary level studies in EU Member States in 2013 came from abroad: in other words they were studying in a country other than that where they completed their secondary education. As is the case for all students, not just those from abroad, the vast majority of these students were studying for Bachelor’s degrees (45 %) or Master’s degrees (41 %), while around 1 in 10 (10 %) were studying for Doctoral degrees and 1 in 20 (5 %) followed short-cycle tertiary courses.

A total of 417 thousand students from abroad were studying in the United Kingdom in 2013, far more than the number in any other EU Member State. The next largest populations of students from abroad were 229 thousand in France and 197 thousand in Germany.

Relative to the overall number of tertiary education students in each country, the United Kingdom also had the highest proportion of students from abroad in 2013, 17.5 % of its total number of tertiary students. In a further four Member States more than one tenth of all tertiary education students were from abroad: Austria (16.8 %), Cyprus (14.9 %), France (11.3 %) and Denmark (10.1 %). In contrast, students from abroad made up a relatively small proportion of the tertiary education student population in Estonia and Spain (both 2.9 %), Slovenia (2.6 %), Lithuania (2.5 %), Poland (1.5 %) and Croatia (0.3 %).

Figure 1 provides a more detailed analysis of the share of students from abroad in each stage of tertiary education, ranked on the share for Bachelor’s degrees as this generally has the largest number of students from abroad. The share of students from abroad generally increases with the level of tertiary education, from relatively low shares for short-cycle tertiary courses to the highest shares for Doctoral degrees.

For short-cycle tertiary courses the highest shares of students from abroad in 2013 among the EU Member States were recorded in Luxembourg, Cyprus and Denmark, all over 10 %. Nearly one fifth (19.7 %) of all students studying for Bachelor’s degrees in Austria were from abroad, while Cyprus (16.8 %) and the United Kingdom (13.2 %) were the only other Member States where more than 1 in 10 students at this level were from abroad. More than one third of Master’s students in the United Kingdom were from abroad, with a further 11 Member States reporting that more than 1 in 10 students were from abroad. For Doctoral students, again the United Kingdom reported the highest share of students from abroad, 41.4 %, followed by France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden with shares between 30 % and 40 %, Denmark, Ireland and Austria with shares between 25 % and 30 %, and a further five Member States with shares above 10 %.

Origin of students from abroad

For several of the EU Member States, the distribution by continent of origin of tertiary students from abroad reflects a common language or cultural ties, for example with countries that were formerly colonies. This may be balanced against the fact that many students who study abroad do so in neighbouring countries, and so the share of students from Europe in some of the Member States is often very high. Indeed, for 18 of the Member States, a majority of students from abroad in 2013 (2012 data for some Member States) were from elsewhere in Europe, with this share close to or exceeding 90 % in Slovenia and Croatia (both 2012 data) and Slovakia, while the proportion of tertiary students from elsewhere in Europe fell below 25 % in Portugal.

In the United Kingdom, more than half of the tertiary students from abroad were from Asia, with shares above one third in a further six Member States. In Portugal, 29.1 % of tertiary students from abroad in 2013 were from Africa, with shares above 10 % also reported for Belgium, Finland, Romania and Luxembourg (2012 data). Equally, the share of students from Central and South America was particularly high in Spain (48.9 %) and Portugal (36.0 %), as the next highest share was 5.5 % in Germany; note that data for Central and South America are not available for Member States for which the most recent data are from 2012. Ireland was the only EU Member State where students from North America represented more than 1 in 10 of the tertiary student population from abroad, with a 16.5 % share.

A more detailed analysis by country of origin is available for a number of partner countries, although not all. Table 2 shows the three largest countries of origin of tertiary students from abroad for each of the EU Member States as well as four non-member countries. It should be noted that for some Member States, for example Poland and Lithuania, the share of the largest country of origin is relatively small and this probably reflects the fact that detailed information is not published by Eurostat for several neighbouring countries (such as Belarus or Russia) that may well provide a large share of students from abroad. For the Member States for which the latest data are from 2012 (such as Germany) data are available for an even shorter list of partner countries.

In 17 of the EU Member States, another Member State was the largest country of origin for students from abroad in 2012 or 2013 (see Table 2 for coverage). These were often neighbouring countries (such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia or Croatia and Slovenia) or ones reached across a relatively short water crossing (such as students from Finland in Estonia). In four EU Member States — Latvia, Hungary, the Netherlands and Austria — students from Germany made up the largest share of students from abroad (among the partner countries for which detailed information is available), while students from Germany made up the second largest group of students from abroad in five other Member States and the third largest in two more.

China (including Hong Kong) was the largest country of origin of students from abroad in Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and the second or third largest in three more EU Member States. Other non-member countries that appeared in the top three in multiple Member States were Turkey, Norway, Israel, India, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the United States, while Brazil and Mexico each featured once.

Field of study of students from abroad

Table 3 provides an analysis of the share of students from abroad according to their field of study. In most EU Member States, students from abroad accounted for a relatively small share of students who were studying subjects in the field of education, exceeding 10 % only in Cyprus and Luxembourg. Equally, the share of students from abroad was relatively low for those studying services, although the share exceeded one fifth in the United Kingdom, while in Malta and Lithuania the share of students from abroad in this field was higher than in any other. Among the remaining fields of study shown in Table 3, health and welfare was the one where the largest number of EU Member States reported their highest share of students from abroad, as was the case in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Spain and Poland. Four Member States (Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium and Estonia) reported their highest share of students from abroad studying in the agriculture and veterinary fields, four others (France, Sweden, Portugal and Slovenia) in science, mathematics and computing fields, and four more (Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy) in humanities and arts. In the United Kingdom and Cyprus the highest share of students from abroad was in social sciences, business and law, while in Finland the highest share was in engineering, manufacturing and construction.

Number and share of graduates from abroad

Based on the available data (see Table 4), around 341 thousand tertiary students from abroad graduated in EU Member States in 2013. The majority of these students graduated from Master’s degree courses (55 %), while just over one in three (34 %) graduated from Bachelor’s degree courses, 7 % from Doctoral courses and 3 % from short-cycle tertiary courses.

A total of 192 thousand students from abroad graduated in the United Kingdom in 2013, far more than the number in any other EU Member State, as the next largest populations of graduates from abroad were 32 thousand in Germany and 18 thousand in the Netherlands; note that no data are available for Greece and France.

Relative to the overall number of tertiary education graduates in each country, Luxembourg had the highest proportion of students from abroad who graduated in 2013, 40.1 % of the total, followed by the United Kingdom where 24.3 % of graduates were from abroad. In six Member States — the Netherlands, Denmark, Cyprus, Sweden, Austria and Belgium (excluding short-cycle graduates) — between 10 % and 14 % of graduates were from abroad, a share that was also achieved in Switzerland (13.7 %). In contrast, students from abroad made up a relatively small proportion of the total number of tertiary education graduates in Estonia, Romania, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland (Bachelor’s and Master’s graduates only) and Croatia, all below 3.0 %.

Figure 3 provides a more detailed analysis of the share of graduates from abroad in each stage of tertiary education, ranked on the share for Master’s degrees as this generally has the largest number of graduates from abroad. The share of graduates from abroad generally increased with the level of tertiary education, from relatively low shares for short-cycle graduates and Bachelor’s graduates to the highest shares for Doctoral degrees.

For short-cycle tertiary courses the highest shares of graduates from abroad in 2013 among the EU Member States were in Luxembourg, Denmark and Cyprus, all over 10 %, which reflected also the relatively high share of students from abroad in these three Member States, as noted earlier. More than one fifth (20.6 %) of graduates from Bachelor’s degrees in Luxembourg were from abroad, while the United Kingdom (15.7 %), Cyprus (14.6 %) and Austria (13.3 %) were the only other Member States where more than 1 in 10 graduates at this level were from abroad. More than half (58.6 %) of all the Master’s graduates in Luxembourg were from abroad while the share in the United Kingdom was 46.1 %. The next highest shares for Master’s graduates were 24.0 % in Sweden and 20.4 % in the Netherlands, with a further five Member States — Denmark, Austria, Belgium, Malta and Germany — reporting that between one fifth and one tenth of their Master’s graduates were from abroad. For Doctoral graduates, again Luxembourg and the United Kingdom reported the highest shares of graduates from abroad, 81.3 % and 43.7 % respectively, followed by the Netherlands (40.3 %) and Belgium (39.5 %). Sweden and Denmark also reported that more than 30 % of Doctoral graduates were from abroad. More than half (51.3 %) of the Doctoral graduates in Switzerland were from abroad, while the proportion in Norway was also slightly above 3 in 10 (30.4 %).

Origin of graduates from abroad

The distribution by continent of origin of tertiary graduates from abroad is presented in Figure 4 for 16 EU Member States, as well as three non-member countries. For 11 of the Member States in 2013, a majority of graduates from abroad were from Europe, with the share reaching as high as 98.6 % in Croatia. In Portugal, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Finland and Germany, tertiary graduates from other European countries accounted for fewer than half of all tertiary graduates from abroad. In Portugal, the share of tertiary graduates from Central and South America (43.5 % of the total from abroad) and Africa (27.2 %) were high, while in Sweden, the United Kingdom, Finland and Germany, the shares of tertiary graduates from Asia were relatively high, peaking at 57.3 % in the United Kingdom. In Norway, a relatively high share of tertiary graduates from abroad were also from Asia.

As for students from abroad, a more detailed analysis of graduates from abroad by country of origin is available for a number of partner countries, although not all. Table 5 shows the three largest countries of origin of graduates from abroad for 16 of the EU Member States as well as three non-member countries. Again it should be noted that for some Member States, for example Lithuania, the share of the largest country of origin for graduates is relatively small, and this probably reflects the fact that detailed information is not published by Eurostat for several neighbouring countries that may well provide a large share of the total number of graduates from abroad.

In nine of the 16 EU Member States, another Member State was the largest country of origin for tertiary graduates from abroad in 2013, while in five Member States China accounted for the largest share of graduates from abroad. The two other Member States for which data are available were Portugal, where the highest share of graduates from abroad originated from Brazil, and Denmark, where the most common origin of graduates from abroad was Norway.

Field of study of graduates from abroad

Table 6 provides a similar analysis to that in Table 3, but shows the share of graduates from abroad according to their field of study, rather than the share of students still in education. A comparison of the data in the two tables shows a few Member States — Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom — where, across all or nearly all fields, the share of graduates from abroad was higher than the share of students. In contrast, in Latvia, Hungary and Austria, the share of graduates from abroad was smaller than the share of students from abroad in all fields. In Germany, Estonia, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal and Slovakia the share of students from abroad was higher than the share of graduates from abroad in most but not all fields, as was the case in Switzerland. In Bulgaria there was an even split, as the share of students from abroad was higher than the share of graduates from abroad in four fields with the reverse situation in the other four fields.

Tertiary students and tertiary graduates

The final analysis within this article compares the number of tertiary graduates from abroad with the corresponding number of tertiary students from abroad. The number of graduates at any level of tertiary education may be expected to be smaller than the number of students, as most tertiary education courses take more than one year to complete and some students do not graduate as they change courses or drop out before completing their studies. Furthermore, mobile students who only undertake part of their studies abroad (for example spending a semester or a year abroad) will be registered as students from abroad in their host country, but may not graduate there.

Based on available data (see Figure 5), the ratio of graduates from abroad to students from abroad for Bachelor’s degrees in the EU-28 was 21 % in 2013. This was the same ratio as calculated for all Bachelor’s graduates and Bachelor’s students, regardless of whether they were from abroad or not. For the three other tertiary education levels, the ratio comparing graduates from abroad to students from abroad was higher than for the total population of graduates and students: for short-cycle courses the ratio was 50 % for those from abroad compared with 34 % overall; for Master’s degrees the ratio for those from abroad was 39 % compared with 30 % overall; for doctoral studies the ratio was 22 % for those from abroad compared with 18 % overall.

Data sources and availability

Source

The standards for international statistics on education are set by three international organisations:

The source of data used in this article is a joint UNESCO/OECD/Eurostat (UOE) data collection on education statistics and this is the basis for the core components of Eurostat’s database on education statistics; in combination with the joint data collection Eurostat also collects data on regional enrolments and foreign language learning.

Regulation No 452/2008 of 23 April 2008 provides the legal basis for the production and development of the EU’s statistics on education and lifelong learning. Two European Commission Regulations have been adopted concerning the implementation of the education and training data. The first, Commission Regulation (EU) No 88/2011 of 2 February 2011, concerned data for the school years 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 while the second, Commission Regulation (EU) No 912/2013 of 23 September 2013, concerns data for school years from 2012/2013 onwards.

More information about the joint data collection is available in an article on the UOE methodology.

Classification

The International standard classification of education (ISCED) is the basis for international education statistics, describing different levels of education; it was first developed in 1976 by UNESCO and revised in 1997 and again in 2011. ISCED 2011 distinguishes nine levels of education: 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). The first results based on ISCED 2011 have been published in 2015 starting with data for the 2013 reference period.

Key concepts

The UOE data collection covers domestic educational activity, in other words education provided within a country’s own territory regardless of ownership or sponsorship of the institutions concerned (whether public or private, national or foreign) or of the education delivery mechanism (whether face-to-face or at a distance). In particular, all students studying within a country, including internationally mobile students from abroad, should be included in the statistics of the reporting country. Students who have left the reporting country to study abroad should not be included by the reporting country even where such students are partially or fully-funded by national or sub-national authorities. Concerning short exchange programmes (of at least three months but shorter than one academic year), students who remain enrolled in their home institution and where credits for successful completion of the study abroad are awarded by the home institution should be reported by the country of the home institution in which they are enrolled.

By contrast, educational activities which take place abroad — for example, in institutions run by providers located in the reporting country — should be excluded.

In cases of cross-border distance learning/e-learning, students should be reported by the country of the institution providing the service, not the country of residence of the student. Equally, students who commute across borders should be reported by the country where they are enrolled rather than where they are resident.

The country of origin for learning mobility data should, in principle, refer to the country of prior secondary education. However, until the 2016 reference year countries might use the country of prior residence or citizenship or another concept instead. Information on the specific definition currently used by countries is available in Footnotes — Learning mobility — students and graduates.

Tables in this article use the following notation:
Value in italics     data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is therefore likely to change;
: not available, confidential or unreliable value.
not applicable.

Context

Bologna process

The Bologna process put in motion a series of reforms to make European higher education more compatible, comparable, competitive and attractive for students. Its main objectives were: the introduction of a three-cycle degree system (bachelor, master and doctorate); quality assurance; and recognition of qualifications and periods of study. One of the operational goals of the process was to remove the obstacles to student mobility across Europe, and more broadly support the mobility of students, teachers and researchers.

ET 2020 strategic framework

The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (known as ET 2020), was adopted by the Council in May 2009. It set out four strategic objectives for education and training in the EU including making mobility a reality. Two benchmarks on learning mobility were adopted by the Council in November 2011, supplementing a set of benchmarks laid down in ET 2020:

  • by 2020, an EU average of 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;
  • by 2020, an EU average of at least 6 % of 18 to 34 year-olds with an initial vocational education and training (VET) qualification should have had an initial VET-related study or training period (including work placements) abroad lasting a minimum of two weeks, or shorter if documented by Europass.

Rethinking education

In November 2012, the European Commission presented ‘Rethinking education: investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes’ (COM(2012) 669), an initiative to encourage EU Member States to ensure that young people develop the skills and competences needed by the labour market. The Communication paid particular attention to combatting youth unemployment and promoted mobility through the Erasmus+ programme.

Erasmus+

The Erasmus programme was one of the most well-known European programmes and ran for just over a quarter of a century; in 2014 it was superseded by the EU’s programme for education, training, youth and sport, referred to as ‘Erasmus+’. In the field of higher education, Erasmus+ gives students and staff opportunities to develop their skills and boost their employment prospects. Students can study abroad for up to 12 months (during each cycle of tertiary education). Around two million higher education students are expected to take part in Erasmus+ during the 2014–20 period, including 25 thousand students in joint masters’ programmes. It is expected that four million people will benefit from Erasmus+, including around two million higher education students, around 650 thousand vocational training and education students, and around 800 thousand lecturers, teachers, trainers, education staff and youth workers.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Publications

Main tables

Database

Participation in education and training (educ_part)
Pupils and students - enrolments (educ_uoe_enr)
Learning mobility (educ_uoe_mob)
Mobile students from abroad (educ_uoe_mobs)
Degree mobile graduates from abroad (educ_uoe_mobg)
Education and training outcomes (educ_outc)
Graduates (educ_uoe_grad)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Metadata

Manuals and other methodological information

Source data for tables and graphs (MS Excel)

Other information

External links