Early leavers from education and training
Data extracted in June 2018.
Planned article update: June 2019.
This article presents statistics on early leavers from education and training in the European Union (EU) and forms part of an online publication on education and training in the EU. Early leavers from education and training may face considerable difficulties in the labour market: for example, they can find it difficult to obtain a secure foothold as employers may be more reluctant to take them on with their limited education.
The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (known as ET 2020) adopted a benchmark to be achieved by 2020, namely, that the share of early leavers from education and training in the EU-28 should be not more than 10 %.
In 2017, an average of 10.6 % of young people (aged 18-24) in the EU-28 were early leavers from education and training, in other words, they had completed at most a lower secondary education and were not in further education or training during the four weeks preceding the survey. In this article, the terms ‘early leavers’ and ‘early leavers from education and training’ are used interchangeably.
Among the EU Member States, the proportion of early leavers in 2017 ranged from 3.1 % in Croatia to 18.6 % in Malta (see Figure 1).
The overall share of early leavers from education and training fell in the EU-28 by 2.1 percentage points between 2012 and 2017. It should be noted that there is a break in series for all countries shown in Figure 1 due to changes in the ISCED classification; nevertheless, at this broad level, the latest figures remain comparable with those for previous years, except for Estonia. Among the EU Member States, the largest reductions (in percentage point terms) between 2012 and 2017 in the proportion of early leavers were in Portugal, Spain and Greece, each reporting a fall in excess of 5.0 points; this was also the case for Turkey among the non-member countries. There was an increase between 2012 and 2017 in the proportion of early leavers in seven of the Member States. The biggest increases were recorded for Slovakia (up 4.0 percentage points) and Czechia (1.2 points). The other five countries (Hungary, Estonia, Romania, Sweden and Bulgaria) reported increases of less than 1.0 points.
As part of the Europe 2020 strategy, nearly all of the EU Member States have adopted national targets for this indicator, and these are also shown in Figure 1. By 2017, the proportion of early leavers was already below the national target in 14 of the Member States, but remained above the national target for 13 of the Member States; there is no national target for the United Kingdom.
The gap between the latest rate for early leavers from education and training and the national target for 2020 was particularly pronounced in Romania (where the latest rate for 2017 was 6.8 percentage points higher than the target), and peaked in Malta where the difference was 8.6 percentage points; note that these two Member States together with Spain also recorded the highest rates of early leavers in 2017.
Analysis by sex
The proportion of early leavers from education and training in 2017 in the EU-28 was 3.2 percentage points higher for young men (12.1 %) than for young women (8.9 %). Nearly all EU Member States reported a higher proportion of early leavers for young men than for young women, with particularly large differences — of at least 5.0 percentage points — in Spain, Latvia, Estonia, Malta, Portugal, Italy, Luxembourg and Denmark; this was also the case in Iceland among the non-member countries. There were five exceptions among the Member States, as the proportion of early leavers was lower for young men than for young women in Slovakia (1.8 percentage points difference), Bulgaria (1.5 points), Hungary (1.0 points) and Romania (0.1 percentage points difference), while there was almost no difference in the rates between the sexes in Czechia. Among the non-member countries shown in Figures 2 and 3 both North Macedonia and Turkey reported lower proportions of early leavers among young men than among young women.
In the EU-28, the proportion of early leavers fell between 2007 and 2017: the overall proportion fell 4.3 percentage points while the proportions for young men and for young women fell 4.8 and 3.9 points, respectively. Although, the proportion of early leavers fell more for young men than for young women in percentage point terms, the relation between the two proportions remained stable, with the proportion of early leavers among young men some 31-33 % higher than among young women throughout the period 2007-2016 but increased to 36 % higher in 2017.
Between 2007 and 2017, nearly all EU Member States reported a fall in the proportion of early leavers among young men, with increases of 0.9 percentage points in Romania, 1.1 points in Czechia and 1.3 points in Slovakia. Elsewhere the proportion fell: in 2017 the share of young men who were early leavers was at least 10.0 percentage points lower than in 2007 in Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Spain, while in Portugal the proportion fell by 27.5 points between these two years.
Among young women, a broadly similar situation was observed. Eight EU Member States — Estonia, Poland, Sweden, Romania, Cyprus, Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia — reported a higher proportion of young women who were early leavers in 2017 than they had in 2007. Portugal again recorded the largest fall in the proportion of early school leavers, down 20.3 percentage points between 2007 and 2017 for young women. Except for Spain and Malta (down 10.2 percentage points each), none of the other Member States recorded a fall in excess of 10.0 points; double-digit reductions were also recorded in North Macedonia and Turkey.
Analysis by labour status
Early leavers from education and training may face heightened difficulties in the labour market. Figure 4 ranks the EU Member States according to the share of early leavers in the population aged 18-24 and presents an analysis of whether these early leavers are employed or not: those not in employment may or may not want to work. In 2017, the 10.6 % of early leavers from education and training were composed as such: a 4.7 % share of the EU-28’s population aged 18-24 were early leavers in employment, while 3.7 % were early leavers not employed but wanting to work, and the remaining early leavers (2.2 % of the population aged 18-24) were not employed and did not want to work.
In 2017, 6 of the 27 EU Member States for which data are available (no data for Lithuania) reported more early leavers not employed but wanting to work than early leavers that were employed. The biggest gap — 2.7 percentage points — was recorded in Italy, where the share of early leavers who were employed stood at 4.4 %, compared with a 7.1 % share of early leavers who were not employed but wanted to work; Croatia and France were the only other Member States to record a gap between these two shares that was almost 1.0 percentage point, while Slovakia, Ireland and Greece were the remaining three Member States where there were more early leavers who were wanting to work than early leavers who were employed. The same was true for North Macedonia. In 21 of the Member States the reverse was true, namely that there were more early leavers that were employed than early leavers not employed but wanting to work, the most notable cases being Malta, Romania and Estonia; this was also the case for four of the non-member countries shown in Figure 4, most notably for Iceland, Turkey and Norway.
As noted above, early leavers not employed and not wanting to work accounted for 2.2 % of the population aged 18-24 in the EU-28 in 2017, but this proportion was 1.7 % among young men and nearly twice as high, 2.8 % among young women (see Table 1). In all but 5 of the 20 EU Member States for which data are available (in eight of the Member States the data are of low reliability and therefore are not published for one or both sexes), the proportion of young women who were early leavers and not wanting to work was higher than the equivalent proportion of young men: the exceptions where this proportion was higher among young men were Cyprus, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland; there was no difference in Ireland. The largest gender differences among the proportion of young people who were early leavers and not wanting to work were recorded in Romania (6.5 percentage points higher for young women than young men), Bulgaria (5.2 points), Hungary (4.3 points) and Slovakia (4.0 points); high gender differences were also recorded in North Macedonia (where the share of female early leavers not wanting to work was 5.6 percentage points higher than among young male early leavers) and especially Turkey (18.5 percentage points).
In 15 EU Member States, both for young men and young women, more early leavers were employed than were not employed but wanted to work. In three other Member States — France, Italy and Slovakia — the reverse was true. Greece, Spain and Poland were special cases insofar as for each of these the proportion of early leavers among young women who were employed was lower than the share of early leavers who were not employed but wanted to work, while the opposite was true for young men (where the proportion of those who were employed was higher than those who were not employed but wanted to work). In the remaining seven Member States there were no data available for this comparison.
Analysis by degree of urbanisation
Figure 5 presents an analysis of the proportion of early leavers from education and training according to the degree of urbanisation, with regions classified as cities, towns and suburbs, or rural areas. In 2017, the lowest proportion of early leavers in the EU-28 was reported in cities (just under 1 in 10 young people); this share is in line with the benchmark set in the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (which foresees lowering the share of early leavers to not more than 10 % by 2020). In the towns and suburbs of the EU the proportion of early leavers rose to 11.7 %, while it was lower in rural areas, at 10.9 %.
Among the 25 EU Member States with a complete set of data for all three degrees of urbanisation (incomplete data for Lithuania, Luxembourg and Malta), 8 reported a similar pattern to that observed for the EU-28 as a whole, in other words a higher proportion of early leavers in towns and suburbs and a lower proportion in cities (see Figure 5). In Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Croatia, Latvia, Hungary, Portugal, Romania Slovakia, Finland and Sweden, the highest proportion of early leavers was reported in rural areas, as was also the case in Iceland and Norway; while Germany, Italy, Austria, Slovenia and the United Kingdom had lowest proportion of early leavers in rural areas. Belgium reported the opposite pattern, with towns and suburbs recording the lowest proportion of early leavers and the cities reporting highest proportion of early leavers; among the non-member countries this pattern was repeated in Switzerland.
Source data for tables and graphs
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 were published in 2015 starting with data for the 2014 reference period; data up to 2013 are based on ISCED 1997.
Early leavers from education and training denotes the percentage of the population aged 18-24 having attained at most lower secondary education and not being involved in further education or training.
- The numerator of the indicator refers to persons aged 18-24 who meet the following two conditions: (a) the highest level of education or training they have completed is ISCED 2011 levels 0, 1 or 2 (ISCED 1997 levels 0, 1, 2 or 3C short) and (b) they have not received any education or training (in other words neither formal nor non-formal) in the four weeks preceding the survey.
- The denominator is the total population of the same age group, excluding respondents who did not answer the questions ‘highest level of education or training successfully completed’ and ‘participation in education and training’.
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.
Tackling early leaving
Most Europeans spend significantly more time in education than the legal minimum requirement. This reflects the choice to enrol in higher education, as well as increased enrolment in pre-primary education and wider participation in lifelong learning initiatives, such as adults returning to education (see the adult education survey) — often in order to retrain or equip themselves for a career change. Nevertheless, around one in ten young adults leave school or training early and this has an impact on individuals, society and economies.
In January 2011, the European Commission adopted a Communication titled ‘Tackling early school leaving: a key contribution to the Europe 2020 agenda’ (COM(2011) 18 final). This outlined the reasons why pupils decide to leave school early — including for example, learning difficulties, social factors, or a lack of motivation, guidance or support — and gave an overview of existing and planned measures to tackle this issue across the EU.
In 2014, the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency and the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) jointly released a report on Tackling early leaving from education and training in Europe: strategies, policies and measures.
More recently CEDEFOP launched an online VET toolkit for tackling early leaving which offers support to policy makers and practitioners in order to design and implement policies to prevent and remedy early leaving from education and training.
ET 2020 strategic framework
The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training was adopted by the Council in May 2009. It sets out four strategic objectives for education and training in the EU: 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. This strategy set a number of benchmarks to be achieved by 2020, including that the EU-28 share of early leavers from education and training should be not more than 10 %. This benchmark is also one of the Europe 2020 strategy targets and previously formed part of the European employment strategy (subsequently incorporated into the Europe 2020 strategy), which specifies that the share should be below 10 %.
- The EU has almost reached its target for share of persons aged 30 to 34 with tertiary education, News release April 2018
- Education and training outcomes (educ_outc)
- Transition from education to work (edatt)
- Early leavers from education and training (edatt1)
- Transition from education to work (edatt)
- Education and training outcomes (educ_outc)
- Educational attainment level and transition from education to work (ESMS metadata file — edat1_esms)
Manuals and other methodological information