Education and training statistics at regional level
Data extracted in May 2022.
Planned article update: September 2023.
In 2021, almost three quarters (73.4 %) of young people aged 25–34 years living in the capital region of Lithuania – Sostinės regionas – had a tertiary level of educational attainment; the next highest share was recorded in the Spanish region of País Vasco (66.0 %).
In 2020, tertiary education students accounted for approximately 1 in 5 of the EU’s total number of pupils and students in education; the highest regional shares were recorded in the Greek region of Dytiki Elláda (50.7 %) and the Spanish region of La Rioja (45.8 %).
Alongside the provision of healthcare, public expenditure on education is often considered as one of the most important investments that can be made in people. Education has the potential to drive forward socioeconomic development: this is particularly the case in a globalised world, where a highly-skilled workforce can be an advantage in terms of productivity, innovation and competitiveness.
Education and training play a vital role in the economic and social strategies of the European Union (EU). In February 2021, a Council Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021–2030) (2021/C 66/01) was adopted. It builds on previous strategies and pursues five priority actions:
- improve quality, equity, inclusion and success for all in education and training;
- make lifelong learning and mobility a reality for all;
- enhance competences and motivation in the education profession;
- reinforce tertiary education; and
- support the green and digital transitions in and through education and training.
The Resolution sets a number of policy targets for the European Education Area designed to promote collaboration between EU Member States and monitor progress. One of the targets foresees having at least 45 % of young people aged 25–34 years in the EU with a tertiary level of education attainment by 2030. In 2021, this target had already been reached in 72 NUTS level 2 regions (or 30 % of the total number of regions across the EU at this level of detail). The highest regional share was recorded in the capital region of Lithuania – Sostinės regionas – at 73.4 % (see the infographic).
The COVID-19 crisis put considerable pressure on education and training institutions, their staff and pupils/students. It often resulted in a widespread shift to remote learning during specific lockdown periods. This change in the means of delivery of education and training underlined a range of inequalities, including a digital divide, with pupils and students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those living in rural and remote areas often facing greater obstacles when trying to study at home.
Statistics on education and training cover a wide range of topics, such as:
- participation (in terms of enrolments and entrants);
- learning mobility;
- outcomes (in terms of graduates, educational attainment levels, and the transition from education to work);
- foreign languages (in terms of foreign language learning and self-reported language skills);
This chapter presents data following the natural progression of pupils and students through different levels of the education system (according to the International standard classification of education (ISCED) – see box for more details) – before analysing transitions from education into the labour market. Note that data on the participation of pupils and students in various levels of education generally refer to 2020, while the latest data on transitions into the labour market are for 2021.
Based on the latest information available from each of the EU Member States, in 2020 there were 93.3 million pupils and students enrolled across the EU in all levels of education from early childhood education to doctoral studies (as covered by ISCED levels 0–8).
International standard classification of education (ISCED)
As national education systems vary in terms of structure and curricular content, statistics on education and training are compiled according to the international standard classification of education (ISCED).
ISCED is the reference classification for organising formal education programmes and related qualifications by education levels and fields into internationally agreed categories. The most recent version of the classification – ISCED 2011 – was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in November 2011 and identifies the following levels of education:
- early childhood education – ISCED level 0;
- primary education – ISCED level 1;
- lower secondary education – ISCED level 2;
- upper secondary education – ISCED level 3;
- post-secondary non-tertiary education – ISCED level 4;
- short-cycle tertiary education – ISCED level 5;
- bachelor’s or equivalent level – ISCED level 6;
- master’s or equivalent level – ISCED level 7;
- doctoral or equivalent level – ISCED level 8.
The term ‘tertiary education’ refers to ISCED levels 5–8.
Early childhood education
Research has shown that early experiences of children are often critical for their long-term development. Early childhood education and care programmes which are intentionally designed to support children’s cognitive, physical and socio-emotional development are considered as educational in the ISCED classification (ISCED level 0, early childhood education) . Early childhood education programmes  constitute the first level of education in education and training systems and play a key role in redressing ‘unequal’ life chances, tackling inequalities through preventing the formation of early skills gaps.
Within the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021–2030), one of the seven key policy targets concerns the share of children aged between 3 years and the starting age of compulsory primary education participating in early childhood education. Eurostat data are used to measure progress towards the goal that, by 2030, at least 96 % of children in this age group are participating in early childhood education.
In 2020, there were 30 regions across the EU where every child between the age of 3 years and the age for starting compulsory primary education participated in early childhood education
Some 15.7 million children in the EU were enrolled in early childhood education in 2020; young boys accounted for a 51.5 % share of pupils at this level. Map 1 shows a more detailed analysis for 206 NUTS level 2 regions; note that statistics presented for Germany relate to NUTS level 1 regions, while national data are presented for Croatia and the Netherlands. There were considerable differences across the EU in terms of regional participation rates, with the highest rates generally recorded in the westernmost regions and lower rates across most eastern regions and Greece. At the top end of the distribution, there were 30 regions in the EU where every child between the age of 3 years and the age for starting compulsory primary education participated in early childhood education (as shown by the darkest shade of blue).
Looking in more detail, there were 79 regions (in other words, more than one third of all EU regions for which data are available) where the share of children between the age of 3 years and the age for starting compulsory primary education participating in early childhood education had already reached the target of 96.0 % in 2020. These regions were mostly located in Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Spain and France – where (practically) all children in this age group participated in early childhood education. There were also several regions in (predominantly southern) Italy, Portugal and Sweden, two regions in Germany, as well as the capital regions of Lithuania and Poland where the policy target had already been achieved.
In 2020, the share of young children participating in early childhood education was less than 75.0 % in approximately one twentieth of the EU regions for which data are available (12 out of 206). The regions with relatively low participation rates (as shown by the lightest shade of yellow in Map 1) were concentrated in Greece (eight regions); Mayotte (France), Nord-Est and Bucureşti-Ilfov (both Romania) and Východné Slovensko (Slovakia) also had relatively low rates. The lowest share was recorded in Voreio Aigaio in Greece (47.9 %) – this was the only region in the EU where less than half of all children between the age of 3 years and the age for starting compulsory primary education participated in early childhood education.
Upper secondary education
School attendance in the EU Member States is compulsory at least for primary and lower secondary education. Young people who have successfully completed lower secondary education may enter upper secondary education (ISCED level 3), when they may have to make choices concerning subjects or specialisations to study, as well as their future education and/or career paths. Upper secondary education in the EU typically ends when students are aged 17 or 18 years. These programmes are designed primarily to prepare students so that they may continue their studies at a tertiary level (general programmes), or to provide them with the necessary skills and competencies that are relevant for a specific occupation or trade (vocational programmes).
Just over half of all upper secondary students in the EU were enrolled in general education programmes
In 2020, there were 17.9 million students enrolled in the EU’s upper secondary education programmes, with just over half of these (51.3 %) participating in general education that tends to be more academic; the remainder followed upper secondary vocational education programmes that are more technical or practical in nature.
Map 2 reflects the organisation of educational systems at a national level and the relative position of general education and vocational education programmes. Among the 217 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (note that statistics presented for Germany relate to NUTS level 1 regions, while national data are presented for Croatia), the split was fairly even between the number with a majority enrolled in general programmes and the number with a majority enrolled in vocational education programmes. There were 115 regions in the EU where a majority of upper secondary students followed general education programmes and 101 regions where a majority of upper secondary students followed vocational education programmes; Łódzkie in Poland had equal numbers of students following each type of programme. Some of these differences between regions can be attributed to the availability of and perceptions concerning general and/or vocational education. For example, a majority of upper secondary students in Ireland, Greece, Cyprus or Lithuania tend to follow general education programmes (as a stepping stone to tertiary education), whereas students in Czechia, the Netherlands, Austria or Slovenia are more likely to follow vocational education programmes.
In 2020, there were 25 regions across the EU where the share of upper secondary students following a general education programme was at least 65.0 % (as shown by the darkest shade of blue in Map 2). These regions were concentrated in Ireland (all three regions), Greece (6 out of 13 regions), Lithuania (both regions), Cyprus and Malta. Together with their five capital regions, this group also included the capital regions of Sweden (Stockholm), Denmark (Hovedstaden), Spain (Comunidad de Madrid), France (Ile-de-France) and Poland (Warszawski stołeczny), as well as Andalucía, Canarias and Cataluña in Spain, Brandenburg in Germany (that encircles the German capital region of Berlin; NUTS level 1), Região Autónoma da Madeira in Portugal, Mayotte in France, and Sydsverige in Sweden. Two thirds of the multi-regional EU Member States reported that their capital region had the highest share of upper secondary students enrolled in general education programmes; this may be linked to the relatively high concentration of general and academic establishments in these regions.
At the other end of the range, there were 22 regions in the EU where the share of upper secondary students following a general education programme was less than 30.0 % (as shown by the lightest shade of yellow) and therefore where a relatively high share of students followed vocational education programmes in 2020. These regions were principally located in Czechia (every region except for the capital region of Praha), the Netherlands (6 out of 12 regions) and Austria (6 out of 9 regions). This group also included Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano/Bozen (Italy), Západné Slovensko (Slovakia) and Vzhodna Slovenija (Slovenia). The last of these was one of only three regions in the EU where less than one in four upper secondary students were enrolled in general education programmes: Vzhodna Slovenija (24.8 %), Oberösterreich in Austria (24.2 %) and Severozápad in Czechia (23.0 %).
Female upper secondary students were more likely (than male students) to enrol in general education programmes
In 2020, there were 8.7 million female upper secondary students in the EU, a majority of whom (58.4 %) were enrolled in general education programmes. By contrast, there were 9.2 million male upper secondary students, with a lower share (44.4 %) enrolled in general education programmes. As such, a greater proportion of female students at this level of education were following more academic studies.
Figure 1 highlights those regions with the highest and lowest shares of upper secondary students following general education programmes. In 2020, the highest shares among female students were recorded in Cyprus (91.1 %), Sostinės regionas (the capital region of Lithuania; 88.8 %) and Ionia Nisia in Greece (84.0 %). The highest shares among male students were recorded in the three Irish regions: Northern and Western (83.9 %), Eastern and Midland (the capital region; 80.9 %) and Southern (79.0 %).
In 2020, at least 7 out of 10 female upper secondary students followed a vocational education programme in five Dutch regions – Groningen, Friesland, Flevoland, Drenthe and Overijssel – as well as Severozápad in Czechia and Oberösterreich in Austria. More than four out of every five male upper secondary students followed a vocational education programme in Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano/Bozen in Italy, Vzhodna Slovenija in Slovenia, Severozápad, Moravskoslezsko and Jihozápad in Czechia, and Oberösterreich.
Tertiary education (ISCED levels 5–8) builds on secondary education, providing learning activities at a higher level of complexity. This level of education – provided by universities and other tertiary educational institutions – can play an important role in society, fostering innovation, increasing economic development and growth, and more generally improving individual well-being.
The number of people enrolling in tertiary education across the EU has risen in recent decades, reflecting a number of factors, such as: demographic patterns; changes in labour force participation (particularly for women); increased demand from employers for tertiary education qualifications for jobs that previously required a secondary level of education; an increased awareness of the benefits of tertiary education; access to student finance, scholarships and other benefits; different patterns of learning mobility (within and from outside of the EU); an increased demand for longer tertiary education, such as the extension from a bachelor’s degree to master’s or doctoral studies; an increasing share of adults participating in lifelong learning.
There were 18.0 million students enrolled in the EU’s tertiary education institutions in 2020. They accounted for almost one in five (19.4 %) of all pupils and students enrolled in the EU’s education system. A majority of the students enrolled in the tertiary education sector were female (54.0 % of the total).
Map 3 shows the proportion of students enrolled in tertiary education relative to the total number of pupils and students in all levels of education. The distribution of this indicator was somewhat skewed, insofar as there were 82 regions with a share equal to or above the EU average of 19.4 %, compared with 135 regions with shares below the EU average. Many urban and capital regions recorded relatively high shares of pupils and students enrolled in tertiary education. Aside from the location and availability of tertiary education establishments, the share of all students enrolled in tertiary education may also reflect, at least to some degree, previous demographic and vital events – for example, developments for the share of young people within the total population or the fertility rate.
In 2020, the share of tertiary education students in the total number of pupils and students across all levels of education was at least 27.0 % in 25 out of 217 of the NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (note that statistics presented for Germany relate to NUTS level 1 regions, while national data are presented for Croatia). Among these regions – which are shown in the darkest shade of blue in Map 3 – the share of tertiary students peaked at more than 40.0 % in Wien (the capital region of Austria), La Rioja (Spain), and three Greek regions – Dytiki Makedonia, Ipeiros and Dytiki Ellada – the latter being the only region in the EU where an absolute majority (50.7 %) of pupils and students were enrolled within tertiary education.
At the other end of the range, there were 22 regions in the EU where tertiary students accounted for less than 9.0 % of all pupils and students in 2020. These regions were widely distributed across 12 different EU Member States, with no more than three regions in each of these (as was the case for France, Italy and Hungary). These 22 regions were characterised as either remote and/or island locations, or regions neighbouring a capital region. The lowest shares of tertiary students – less than 5.0 % – were recorded in Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano/Bozen in Italy, Sud-Muntenia in Romania, Mayotte in France and Střední Čechy in Czechia; the latter recorded the lowest share in the EU, at 1.7 %.
There were more women (than men) studying for bachelor’s and master’s degrees
In 2020, there were 10.7 million students across the EU enrolled in bachelor’s programmes. This figure was slightly more than twice as high as the count of students enrolled in master’s programmes (5.3 million), while there were 0.7 million students enrolled in doctoral (PhD) programmes. As noted above, women accounted for a majority of the students enrolled within tertiary education: this gender gap was particularly apparent among students studying for a master’s degree (57.2 % were women) and somewhat smaller among those studying for a bachelor’s degree (53.4 % were women). By contrast, a small majority (51.3 %) of the students studying for a doctoral degree were men.
Unsurprisingly, the highest numbers of tertiary students were recorded in some of the EU’s principal urban regions. In 2020, there were 724 000 tertiary students enrolled in Ile-de-France (the French capital region), 418 000 in Comunidad de Madrid (the Spanish capital region) and 396 000 in Cataluña (also in Spain). The only other NUTS level 2 regions in the EU with more than 300 000 tertiary students were Andalucía in Spain, Lombardia and Lazio (the Italian capital region) in Italy, and Rhône-Alpes in France; note that statistics presented for Germany relate to NUTS level 1 regions, while national data are presented for Croatia. Nordrhein-Westfalen (830 000) had the highest number of tertiary students in Germany, while Bayern and Baden-Württemberg also recorded more than 300 000 tertiary students.
Figure 2 provides information for those EU regions with the highest and lowest shares of tertiary students enrolled to study for a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree. Note that each national education system has its own specific characteristics, with an education offer that is focused on particular fields or levels of education. This may explain, at least to some degree, why there were 16 regions across the EU where there were no tertiary students enrolled to study for a doctoral degree in 2020, whereas 13.8 % of male tertiary students and 9.5 % of female tertiary students in Luxembourg were enrolled to study for a doctoral degree (2019 data; the highest shares in the EU). Several (other) capital regions – those of Finland, Czechia and Germany (NUTS level 1) – also recorded a relatively large share of tertiary students enrolled at the highest level of education.
Educational attainment can be measured by looking at the highest level of education (based on the ISCED classification) that an individual has successfully completed. A basic level of education is desirable for all, as it provides the opportunity to participate in economic and social life. Nevertheless, people with higher levels of educational attainment generally tend to have a lower likelihood of being unemployed and experience a wider range of job opportunities, higher levels of income and tend to be more satisfied with life.
People with at least an upper secondary level of educational attainment
For educational attainment, the principal target set by the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021–2030) is to ensure that the share of early leavers (aged 18–24 years) across the EU with no more than a lower secondary education and no longer in education or training should be less than 9 % by 2030. This target is supplemented by the analysis of a complementary indicator – detailed here – namely, the share of people aged 20–24 years with at least an upper secondary (or intermediate) level of educational attainment; here a target of at least 90 % has been set for 2030. Note that statistics on educational attainment pertain to the highest level of attainment reached at the moment of the survey interview and that some people in the target age range might still be in the process of studying. Equally, people may leave the region where they completed a particular level of education in order to find work or continue their studies, moving to regions offering a wider range of labour market and educational opportunities.
The last couple of decades have seen an expansion in the number of students graduating in intermediate (at most upper secondary or non-tertiary post-secondary) and higher (tertiary) levels of education. The share of the EU population aged 20–24 years with at least an intermediate level of educational attainment increased between 2002 and 2021 from 76.8 % to 84.6 %.
The share of young people with at least an intermediate level of education peaked at 99.8 % in the Greek region of Ipeiros
Map 4 shows the proportion of young people with at least an intermediate level of education in 2021. Among the 240 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (2020 data for Trier in Germany; no information for Mayotte in France or Åland in Finland), there were 21 regions where this measure of educational attainment was at least 95.0 % (as shown by the darkest shade of blue). These regions with very high shares of young people having attained at least an intermediate level of education were concentrated across Ireland (all three regions), Greece (8 out of 13 regions) and Croatia (all four regions). The remaining regions with very high shares included the capital regions of Czechia and Lithuania, as well as single regions from each of France, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia. The north-western Greek region of Ipeiros had the highest share of young people aged 20–24 years having attained at least an intermediate level of educational attainment, at 99.8 %. The second and third highest shares were also recorded in Greek regions: Thessalia (99.5 %) and Notio Aigaio (98.3 %).
At the other end of the spectrum, there were 23 regions in the EU where less than three quarters of all young people aged 20–24 years had attained at least an intermediate educational attainment in 2021 (as shown by the darkest shade of yellow in Map 4). These regions were primarily located across north-western regions of Germany, southern Denmark and southern Spain. However, there were also very low levels of intermediate educational attainment in Yugoiztochen (Bulgaria), Észak-Magyarország (Hungary), Sicilia (Italy), as well as two outermost regions of the EU – Região Autónoma dos Açores (Portugal) and Guyane (France); the last of these recorded the lowest share in the EU, at 63.2 %.
People with a tertiary level of educational attainment
One of the seven EU policy targets within the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021–2030) concerns tertiary educational attainment. The EU seeks to ensure that, by 2030, the share of people aged 25–34 years with tertiary educational attainment should be at least 45.0 %.
Approximately one quarter of all EU regions have reached the policy goal for tertiary educational attainment
In 2021, just over two fifths (41.2 %) of the EU population aged 25–34 years had a tertiary level of educational attainment; note that some people within this age group might still be studying. Of the 240 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (2019 data for Trier in Germany; 2020 data for Corse in France; no information for Mayotte in France or Åland in Finland), there were 72 regions that had already reached or surpassed the EU policy target of 45.0 % (as shown by the blue shades in Map 5). By contrast, the share of people aged 25–34 years with a tertiary level of education attainment was less than the 45.0 % target in more than two thirds of all EU regions (as shown by the yellow shades).
At the top end of the distribution, there were 22 regions in the EU where at least 55.0 % of young people aged 25–34 years had a tertiary level of educational attainment in 2021. They included the capital regions of Lithuania, France, Poland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, Czechia, Cyprus, Spain and Belgium. Relatively high shares of tertiary educational attainment were also recorded in several regions specialised in research and innovation activities and/or high-technology manufacturing, for example, Utrecht in the Netherlands, País Vasco in northern Spain, Southern in Ireland and Prov. Brabant Wallon in Belgium. Regions such as these – together with capital regions – would appear to act as a magnet for highly-qualified people, exerting considerable ‘pull effects’ through the varied educational, employment and social/lifestyle opportunities that they offer.
At the bottom end of the distribution, there were 22 regions in the EU where less than a quarter of all people aged 25–34 years had a tertiary level of educational attainment in 2021 (as shown by the darkest shade of yellow). These regions were principally concentrated in eastern EU Member States, as well as several predominantly southern regions of Italy, but also included the outermost regions of Guyane (France) and Região Autónoma dos Açores (Portugal) among others. Many were characterised as rural regions that had a relatively large agricultural sector, with a low level of supply of highly-skilled employment opportunities. Others were characterised by their relatively high specialisation in vocational educational programmes, with students moving into the labour market through apprenticeships and training schemes rather than as a result of obtaining academic qualifications. The lowest regional levels of tertiary educational attainment among people aged 25–34 years were recorded in three Romanian regions: Centru (17.5 %), Sud-Est (15.9 %) and Sud-Muntenia (15.3 %).
Transition from education to work
The final section of this chapter provides information on the situation of young people as they aim to transition from education into work. When students complete their studies there may be a number of barriers that restrict their progression into the labour market, for example: a lack of relevant work experience; a lack of skills; or an overall lack of jobs during periods of economic shock (for example, during the COVID-19 crisis).
Employment rate of recent graduates from vocational programmes
A Council Recommendation of 24 November 2020 on vocational education and training (VET) for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience (2020/C 417/01) set an EU benchmark for recent graduates from vocational programmes. The target – defined in relation to people aged 20–34 years having graduated 1–3 years earlier with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary vocational education – is for the employment rate of this subpopulation to be at least 82.0 % by 2025.
Between 2015 and 2019, the EU employment rate for recent graduates from vocational education programmes in upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education (as covered by ISCED levels 3 and 4) increased from 72.3 % to 79.1 %. However, the employment rate for this subpopulation fell 3.4 percentage points in 2020 as the COVID-19 crisis likely impacted on the number of (new) job opportunities that were open to young people; there was a modest recovery in 2021, as the employment rate for this subpopulation rose to 76.4 %. As such, the EU employment rate for recent vocational graduates was 5.6 percentage points below the EU target of at least 82.0 % for 2025.
Map 6 shows that the employment rate of recent vocational graduates in 2021 was already at or above the target in every region of Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, as well as in all but one of the regions in Austria (the exception being the capital region of Wien) for which data are available, and all but two of the regions in Czechia and Denmark; these regions with shares of 82.0 % or higher are shown by the blue shades in Map 6. Employment rates for this subpopulation were particularly high in a cluster of regions in Germany and Sweden, as well as in the Slovak capital city region (Bratislavský kraj), Střední Čechy in Czechia, and Overijssel and Gelderland in the Netherlands.
Among the 190 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available in 2021 (note that statistics presented for Belgium, Bulgaria and France relate to NUTS level 1 regions, while mixed reference periods are used ranging from 2019 to 2021), there were five regions where all recent vocational graduates successfully found work: Střední Čechy, Trier in Germany (2019 data), Bratislavský kraj, and Norra Mellansverige and Övre Norrland (also 2019 data) in Sweden.
The lowest employment rates for recent vocational graduates were generally recorded in southern regions of the EU. In 2021, there were 19 regions where less than 57.5 % of all recent vocational graduates had found work and these were located in Italy (10 regions, predominantly in the south), Greece (five regions; three of which were for earlier reference periods), France (two NUTS level 1 regions), as well as Galicia in Spain and Sud-Vest Oltenia in Romania. The lowest regional employment rates of recent graduates from vocational programmes were recorded in three Italian regions: Calabria (33.8 %), Campania (31.8 %) and Sicilia (27.1 %).
Early leavers from education and training
Within the EU, education policy seeks to ensure that all people in the EU (irrespective of age) have the skills, knowledge and capabilities to develop their careers. The transition from education into work may prove particularly difficult for people with low levels of literacy and numeracy, those who leave education at an early age, and people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. One particular area of concern is the proportion of early leavers from education and training. These are individuals aged 18–24 years who have at most a lower secondary level of educational attainment (ISCED levels 0–2) and who were not engaged in any further education and training (during the four weeks preceding the EU labour force survey). This indicator forms one of the seven key targets outlined in the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021–2030); the EU has set a goal to reduce the proportion of early leavers to less than 9.0 % by 2030.
Over the last two decades, the share of early leavers from education and training gradually declined across the EU. From a peak of 16.9 % in 2002 (the start of the time series), this share fell each and every year through to 2017. Having remained unchanged in 2018, there were further falls in the following three years. By 2021, the share of young people who had at most a lower secondary level of educational attainment and who were not engaged in any further education and training was 9.7 %; this was only 0.7 percentage points higher than the target set for 2030. With relatively few job opportunities available for young people during the COVID-19 crisis, it is possible that some young people deferred their entry into the labour market and sought instead education and training opportunities at the height of the pandemic.
The share of early leavers from education and training in the EU was higher among young men (11.4 %) than among young women (7.9 %)
There is both a spatial and a gender dimension to the issue of early leavers from education and training. The proportion of early leavers tends to be higher in rural and sparsely-populated regions of the EU, as well as in regions characterised as former industrial heartlands. Among other reasons, this pattern may be a reflection of lower life chances and weak local labour markets (which may act as a ‘push factor’ to drive away more talented students). For the gender dimension, a higher proportion of young men (compared with young women) tend to be early leavers. Within the EU, the share of early leavers from education and training in 2021 was 11.4 % among young men, which was 3.5 percentage points higher than the corresponding share among young women (7.9 %). This pattern was repeated in the vast majority of EU Member States as – at a national level – only Bulgaria and Romania recorded lower rates of early leavers for young men. The largest gender gaps were recorded in Belgium, Estonia, Cyprus and particularly Spain (7.0 percentage points in favour of young women).
In 2021, the proportion of early leavers from education and training was already less than 9.0 % in more than half of EU regions: 118 out of 228 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (note the latest information available is for mixed reference periods covering various years from 2019 to 2021). Some of the lowest shares of early leavers were concentrated in eastern and southern regions of the EU, in particular across parts of Czechia, Greece, Croatia and Slovenia. There were three regions where the overall (young men and young women combined) share of early leavers from education and training was less than 1.0 %: Praha (the capital region of Czechia), Dytiki Makedonia and Thessalia (both in Greece; 2020 data).
In 2021, the highest regional shares of early leavers from education and training were principally concentrated in southern Spain and southern Italy, eastern Hungary and much of Bulgaria and Romania, as well as sparsely-populated, island and/or peripheral regions of the EU. Concerning island and/or peripheral regions, it is likely that a disproportionately high share of students have to leave home if they wish to follow a particular course or programme, leaving behind a higher concentration of early leavers. Região Autónoma dos Açores in Portugal (23.2 %), Guyane in France (23.3 %) and Ciudad de Ceuta in Spain (25.5 %; 2020 data) had the highest overall shares of early leavers from education and training.
Figure 3 presents information on the highest and lowest shares of early leavers from education and training by sex. It confirms that the share of early leavers was generally higher among young men than among young women. Some of the highest rates among young men were concentrated in Spanish regions and several eastern regions of the EU, while the highest rates among young women were also generally recorded in eastern regions of the EU.
At the other end of the distribution, the lowest shares of early leavers among young women – less than 2.0 % – were recorded in Vzhodna Slovenija in Slovenia, Praha and Střední Čechy in Czechia, and three regions in Greece – Dytiki Makedonia, Ionia Nisia and Kentriki Makedonia. There were five regions where the share of early leavers among young men was less than 2.0 %: Praha in Czechia and four regions in Greece.
Source data for figures and maps
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). ISCED 2011 was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in November 2011 and is used as the basis for the statistics presented here.
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 Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Eurostat, often referred to as the UOE data collection exercise. Data on regional enrolments are collected separately by Eurostat. These statistics are provided to Eurostat on the basis of a gentlemen’s agreement.
The UOE data collection exercise is principally based on administrative sources, with the data compiled by education ministries or national statistical authorities. Reference periods are the calendar year for data on graduates and the school/academic year (classified to the calendar year in which the school/academic year finishes) for all other non-monetary data.
With respect to education statistics, the EU’s labour force survey provides data on the population’s level of educational attainment, the number of early leavers from education and training, and the employment rates of recent young graduates. It covers the population of individuals aged 15 years and more living in private households; information for each new reference year being made available in the spring of the following year.
Participation in early childhood education and care
For the purpose of this publication, the participation rate in early childhood education and care is defined as the share of children aged between 3 years and the age when compulsory education starts which participate in early education and care.
Students enrolled in upper secondary education
Students typically enter ISCED level 3, or upper secondary education, between the ages of 14 and 16 years. Programmes at this level are usually designed to complete secondary education in preparation for tertiary education (general) or to provide skills relevant for the labour market (vocational), or both. The number of students enrolled in upper secondary education reflects, to some degree, the demographic structure of each EU Member State and also country-specific policies such as the length of compulsory education and the availability of further training outside of the education system and/or at the end of secondary education.
Students enrolled in tertiary education
Tertiary education is defined as ISCED levels 5–8. It builds on secondary education, providing learning activities in specialised fields of study. Tertiary education comprises short-cycle tertiary education (ISCED level 5), bachelors or equivalent (ISCED level 6), masters or equivalent (ISCED level 7) and doctoral (PhD) or equivalent (ISCED level 8) education. For the first three of these, students generally need to have successfully completed an upper secondary programme, while those wishing to study for a doctorate generally need to have completed a master’s programme.
The relative concentration of students in tertiary education may reflect capacities and policies for the development of particular educational levels, but is also linked to qualification requirements, subject choice and/or job opportunities. As students grow older and education becomes more specialised, student mobility generally increases. As such, international flows of students may have a considerable impact on the share/number of students enrolled.
Educational attainment is a term commonly used to refer to the highest level of education that an individual has successfully completed. The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021–2030) introduced two targets.
- The share of early leavers from education and training (defined as people aged 18–24 years with no more than a lower secondary education and no longer in education or training) should be less than 9 % by 2030. This target will be supplemented by the analysis of a complementary indicator, namely, the share of people aged 20–24 years with at least an upper secondary (or intermediate) level of educational attainment.
- The share of people aged 25–34 years with a tertiary educational attainment should be at least 45 % by 2030.
Employment rate of recent graduates from vocational programmes
This indicator concerns recent vocational graduates (in other words, those who have graduated with an upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary vocational education within the previous 1–3 years) meeting two criteria, namely:
- being in employment, and;
- not in any further (formal or non-formal) education or training (during the four weeks preceding the LFS survey).
A Recommendation on vocational education and training (VET) for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience (2020/C 417/01) set a benchmark target to be achieved across the EU by 2025. The goal is to ensure that the employment rate of recent graduates aged 20–34 years from vocational programmes should reach at least 82.0 %.
Early leavers from education and training
This indicator is derived from the EU labour force survey. It is defined as the share of the population aged 18–24 years with no more than a lower secondary level of educational attainment that are no longer in education or training. The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021–2030) introduced a target for the share of early leavers from education and training, whereby this ratio should be less than 9 % in the EU by 2030.
Each of the EU Member States is responsible for its own education and training policy. However, the EU supports national actions and helps Member States to address common education and training challenges through what is known as the open method of coordination. Indeed, the EU provides a policy forum for discussing topical issues (for example, ageing societies, the skills deficits, or global competition) and also provides Member States with an opportunity to exchange best practices. Within this context, the European Commission has presented a wide range of initiatives for developing education and training in the EU, such as: improving key competences (such as literacy, language skills, digital skills and entrepreneurship); making better use of digital technology for teaching and learning; and developing mutual recognition of diplomas.
The EU is in the process of building a European Education Area, designed to strengthen educational outcomes and learning mobility, promote common values, and facilitate the mutual recognition of diplomas across borders. In her political guidelines for the European Commission, President von der Leyen underlined her commitment to make the European Education Area a reality by 2025: bringing down barriers to learning; improving access to education; enabling students to move more freely between education systems in different countries; enriching life chance by promoting lifelong learning; and encouraging investment in digital skills for both young people and adults alike.
In February 2021, a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021–2030) (2021/C 66/01) was adopted. During the next decade, the strategic framework will address five key priorities:
- improving quality, equity, inclusion and success for all in education and training;
- making lifelong learning and mobility a reality for all;
- enhancing competences and motivation in the education profession;
- reinforcing European higher education;
- supporting the green and digital transitions in and through education and training.
As a means of monitoring progress, a series of reference levels (or benchmarks) for average EU performance in education and training have been agreed. These seven EU-level targets should support monitoring strategic education and training priorities during the period 2021–2030:
- the share of low-achieving 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science should be less than 15 %, by 2030;
- the share of low-achieving students (in their eighth year of schooling) in computer and information literacy should be less than 15 %, by 2030;
- at least 96 % of children between 3 years old and the starting age for compulsory primary education should participate in early childhood education and care by 2030;
- the share of early leavers aged 18–24 years from education and training should be less than 9 % by 2030;
- the share of 25–34 year-olds with a tertiary level of educational attainment should be at least 45 % by 2030;
- the share of recent graduates from vocational education and training benefiting from exposure to work-based learning during their studies should be at least 60 % by 2025;
- at least 47 % of adults aged 25–64 years should have participated in learning during the previous 12 months by 2025.
The European Recovery Instrument (also known as Next Generation EU) is a €750 billion instrument designed to help repair the economic and social damage brought about by the COVID-19 crisis. It is designed to ensure that, post-COVID-19, the EU will be greener, more digital, more resilient and fit to face the current and forthcoming challenges. One of the key elements of the recovery plan is investment in people and their skills. Following the crisis, it is likely that some members of the labour force will need to acquire new skills and/or move to new jobs in different sector of the economy. Others will need to upskill to keep their jobs in new working environments, while many young people could face considerable challenges to enter the labour market. The European Skills Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience (COM(2020) 274 final) is a five-year plan to help individuals and businesses develop more and better skills.
The Digital Education Action Plan (2021–2027) – Resetting education and training for the digital age (COM(2020) 624 final) outlines the European Commission’s vision for high-quality, inclusive and accessible digital education in the EU. It is composed of two strategic priorities:
- fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem;
- enhancing digital skills and competences for the digital transformation.
The Erasmus programme was launched 35 years ago and has helped more than 10 million people to study, work or volunteer abroad. At the end of 2020, a political agreement was reached on the Erasmus+ programme for 2021–2027. It aims to support education and training in the EU by offering mobility and cooperation opportunities for higher education, vocational education and training, school education, adult education, youth and sport. It has a budget around €26.5 billion and focuses on social inclusion, green and digital transitions, and promoting young people’s participation in democratic life.
Direct access to
- ↑ At this age, learning activities will be very different to the traditional methods adopted within the context of compulsory schooling, and will take place alongside/as part of caring activities (in other words, supervision, nutrition and health) most of the time. Programmes providing childcare only (in other words, supervision, nutrition and health) without a sufficient set of purposeful learning activities cannot be considered as educational according to ISCED and are not classified as early childhood education.
- ↑ Typically designed to introduce young children to organised instruction outside of the family context; programmes have an intentional education component and target children below the age of entry into ISCED level 1 (primary education).
- Education and training in the EU – facts and figures (online publication)
- Regional education statistics (t_reg_educ)
- Participation in education and training (t_educ_part)
- Education and training outcomes (t_educ_outc)
- Early leavers from education and training by sex and NUTS 1 regions (tgs00106)
- Regional education statistics (reg_educ)
- Regional education statistics – ISCED 2011 (reg_educ_11)
- Participation in education and training (educ_part)
- Pupils and students – enrolments (educ_uoe_enr)
- Early childhood education and primary education (educ_uoe_enrp)
- Lower secondary, upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (educ_uoe_enrs)
- Tertiary education (educ_uoe_enrt)
- 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)
- Early leavers from education and training (edatt1)
- Labour status of young people by years since completion of highest level of education (edatt2)
- Educational attainment level (edat)
Manuals and further methodological information
- Dedicated section on education and training: methodology
- EU’s labour force survey (LFS)
- EU labour force survey – new methodology from 2021 onwards
- Methodological manual on territorial typologies – 2018 edition
- Statistical regions in the European Union and partner countries – NUTS and statistical regions 2021 – 2020 edition
- Regional education statistics (ESMS metadata file – reg_educ_esms)
- Council Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021–2030)
- European Commission – EACEA – Eurydice – Description of national education systems
- European Commission – Education and Training – Digital education action plan (2021–2027)
- European Commission – Education and Training – European education area
- European Commission – Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion – European skills agenda
- European Commission – Regional Policy – Education and training
- International standard classification of education (ISCED 2011)
- UNESCO-UIS website
Maps can be explored interactively using Eurostat’s statistical atlas (see user manual).
This article forms part of Eurostat’s annual flagship publication, the Eurostat regional yearbook.