Disability statistics - access to education and training

Data from July 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Next update of this article: March 2019

This article is part of a set of articles on disability which provide information on persons with disabilities. It is based on the data of the 2011 ad-hoc module of the EU Labour force survey (LFS-AHM) and relates to the access to education and training of the population with disabilities aged 15-64 in 31 countries (European Union (EU), Turkey, Iceland and Switzerland).

The data presented refer to the Europe 2020 indicators on education: early leavers from education and training, and tertiary educational attainment. The proportion of young people not in employment and not in any education (NEET), the highest level of education attained and participation in lifelong learning are also covered.

The design of the 2011 ad-hoc module makes possible to compute indicators according to two "main" definitions of disability:

  • Definition 1: People having a basic activity difficulty (such as sight, hearing, walking, communicating);
  • Definition 2: People limited in work activity because of a longstanding health problem and/or a basic activity difficulty (LHPAD).
Figure 1: Early school leavers, by country and disability status, in %, 2011
Source: Eurostat ( (hlth_de010)
Figure 2: Young people (aged 15-34) not in employment and not in any education, by country and disability status, in %, 2011
Source: Eurostat (hlth_de030)
Figure 3: Highest level of education attained (1) for EU-28, by disability status, in %, 2011
Source: Eurostat (hlth_de040)
Table 1: Tertiary educational attainment (age group 30-34), by disability status, by country, in %, 2011
Source: Eurostat (hlth_de020)
Figure 4: Persons aged 15-64 participating in education and training, by country and disability status (1), in %, 2011
Source: Eurostat (hlth_de050)

Main statistical findings

Disabled people leave education and training earlier

The Europe 2020 strategy calls for efforts to reduce to less than 10 % by 2020 the proportion of people aged 18-24 who leave education and training with lower secondary education at most. In 2011, around one person out of four in the EU was in this situation among those reporting a basic activity difficulty, compared with 12.4 % of those without difficulty (see Figure 1).

At country level, for people having a basic activity difficulty, this rate varied from 11 % in Sweden to more than 60 % in Turkey and Bulgaria. For those without difficulties, a number of Member States (Croatia, Sweden, Slovakia, Poland and Czech Republic) reported less than 5 % of early school leavers. Conversely, 41 % of Turks without difficulties left school early.

Similarly, considering the second definition of disability, in the EU as a whole the rate of early leavers from school and education was much higher for disabled people than for those not having a disability: 31.5 % compared with 12.3 %. The gap between the two sub-populations was less marked in Finland, Sweden and Switzerland (less than 10 percentage points difference). At the opposite extreme, Romania recorded the highest discrepancy, with 71 % of those reporting a work limitation caused by a LHPAD being early school leavers compared with 17 % among those without work limitations.

Young people neither in employment nor in education and training: twice as many among persons with disabilities in the EU-28

In 2011, 30.7 % of people aged 15-34 having a basic activity difficulty were neither in employment nor in any education or training in the EU-28. This is 15 percentage points higher than those in this age group without basic activity difficulty (see Figure 2). The gap was much more marked (25 percentage points) for people with limitations in work caused by a LHPAD (40.4 % and 15.4 % respectively).

Differences across countries varied from 2 percentage points in Switzerland to more than 40 percentage points in Bulgaria, Slovakia and Romania (for definition 1). More than 6 out of 10 young people reporting a basic activity difficulty in Romania and Slovakia, and nearly three quarters in Bulgaria, were neither in employment nor in education. In contrast, among young persons reporting no difficulties, this proportion was below 20 % for Romania and Slovakia, and about 25 % in Bulgaria.

When the second definition of disability is considered, the most significant differences observed between people aged 15-34 with and without disabilities were recorded in Bulgaria (86 % and 25 % respectively), followed by Romania (75 % and 18 %) and Lithuania (67 % and 14 %)

First and second stage of tertiary education attained by 15 % of disabled persons; 25 % for those not having a disability

At the EU-28 level, nearly two out of 5 people having a basic activity difficulty attained only “pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education” levels, while less than 30 % of those without a basic activity difficulty were in this situation. For the second definition of disability the gap between the two groups was higher (13.5 percentage points). Moreover, the share of disabled persons attaining a tertiary education level was lower than for non-disabled persons (15.5 % compared with 25.0 %, using the first definition of disability).

Belgium, Ireland, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Poland and the United Kingdom recorded the largest differences in tertiary attainment level between persons with and without a work limitation caused by a LHPAD, with at least 15 percentage points difference.

At EU level, the share of persons attaining “upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education” levels remained fairly similar among disabled and non-disabled persons (between 45 % and 47 %, whatever the definition of disability applied). However, there was a wider gap between the groups in the share of persons attaining on one hand at most a lower secondary education and on the other hand a tertiary education level. Among persons having a basic activity difficulty, a difference of 23 percentage points was observed between the lowest (38.9 %) and the highest (15.5 %) educational attainment levels. The disparity was far wider for those having limitations in work caused by a LHPAD, with a 28 percentage points gap (41.8 % compared with 13.4 %). Conversely, among persons without disabilities, the difference was only 3 percentage points (around 28 % and 25 % respectively).

At country level, this general picture is largely confirmed. However, some particularities can be observed: the share of people with at most a lower secondary education level was very high for Malta, Portugal and Turkey whatever their condition for persons aged 15-64 (i.e. with or without work limitation/disability). Among people with basic activity difficulties for instance, this share was 78 % for Malta, 84 % for Portugal and 86 % in Turkey, with obviously very low shares in the higher attainment levels.

Tertiary education completion: those with disabilities far from the objective of 40 %

The Europe 2020 strategy aims to increase the share of the population aged 30-34 having completed tertiary education to at least 40 %. About 36 % of people aged 30-34 without disabilities attained this educational level in 2011, compared with less than 24 % for those having a basic activity difficulty and around 22 % for those having a limitation in work caused by a LHPAD (see Table 1).

This target was attained by 13 Member States, as well as Iceland and Switzerland, among persons without any work limitation or activity difficulty whatsoever. The proportion even exceeded 50 % in Sweden and Ireland.

More than 36 % of people with basic activity difficulties completed a tertiary educational level in Finland and Luxembourg, followed by Spain (35 %) and France (33 %). So far, the Europe 2020 target has only been reached for people with limitations in work in Iceland (41 %). Proportions are also comparatively high in Spain (35 %) and in Sweden (34 %). Conversely, the lowest rates were observed for Turkey (7 %) and Italy (11 %). It should be noted that for a number of countries, the figures should be taken with care due to their low reliability resulting from a limited number of observations.

The largest gaps in tertiary education attainment between persons aged 30-34 with and without work limitations or basic activity difficulties were observed in Belgium and Ireland at more than 23 percentage points difference for the first disability measure and more than 29 percentage points for the second. This contrasts with the situation in Austria, where persons having difficulties with basic activities registered a slightly higher share of tertiary education attainment (26 %) than persons without such difficulties (25 %).

Lifelong learning: less than 10 % of disabled people participated in education and training; about 21 % for those not disabled

In the EU-28 countries, almost one disabled person out of 10 aged 15-64 participated in education and training (formal and non-formal education); this was half the level for non-disabled people (see Figure 4).

With shares between 20 % and 30 %, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Switzerland reported the highest proportions of participation in education and training, whatever the type of disability considered. These five countries also recorded education and training participation rates that were among the highest for persons without disabilities (between 33 % and 44 %).

A similar link can be observed at the other end of the spectrum: among the countries with the lowest participation rates in education and training, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Turkey registered values of around 4 % or lower for persons with activity difficulties or work limitations and never exceeding 20 % for the non-disabled.

The largest differences between the disabled and non-disabled population were observed in Lithuania and Slovenia at more than 18 percentage points: in Lithuania, a share of under 5 % was recorded for disabled persons compared with 23 % for the not disabled; in Slovenia, the shares were 14 % and 32 % respectively.

Data sources and availability

All statistics presented in this article were derived from the European Union Labour force survey (EU-LFS). This is a quarterly, large sample survey providing results for the population living in private households in the EU, EFTA and the candidate countries.

The EU-LFS included an ad-hoc module on the employment of disabled people in 2002 and 2011. The main aim of this module was to provide information on the situation of disabled people on the labour market as compared to those without disabilities. From this module information on the access to education and training of the population with disabilities could also be derived by making use of the education variables from the standard EU-LFS. The target population of this module is the working age population (i.e. those aged 15-64).


The Preamble to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) recognizes the importance of access to education. Article 8b (Awareness Raising) requires states to encourage “an attitude of respect for the rights of persons with disabilities” at all levels of the education system, and Article 24 (Education) deals with the issue in detail. It asserts the right to education “without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity”. The education system should be inclusive at all levels, including informal and lifelong learning. This means that young disabled people should not be excluded because of their impairment or disability status. They should be able to learn “on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live”. There should be provision of “reasonable accommodation” and “individualized support”. Article 24.5 concludes that “States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access general tertiary education, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning without discrimination and on an equal basis with others.” To this end, they are expected to ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities.

Moreover, the promotion of inclusive education and lifelong learning for students and pupils with disabilities is one of the priority areas set up by the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 adopted on 15 November 2010. Support for practical implementation of the strategy is provided by a pan-European academic network in the disability field named Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED) which was created by the European Commission in December 2008.

Based upon country reports prepared by ANED’s national correspondents, a report was recently prepared for the European Commission, to examine if the commitment made within the Lisbon strategy (aiming at ensuring that EU education and training systems are ‘accessible to all’) is being achieved, in terms of educational opportunities and outcomes for youths and young adults with disabilities. The report notably highlights significant challenges and barriers that remain and includes recommendations to overcome such barriers.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Disability (hlth_dsb)
Access to education and training for disabled people (source LFS) (hlth_dsb_educ)

Dedicated section


Methodology / Metadata

Other information

  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 317/2010 of 16 April 2010 adopting the specifications of the 2011 ad hoc module on employment of disabled people for the labour force sample survey provided for by Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98

External links