Education and training statistics at regional level
Data extracted in March/April 2018.
Planned article update: September 2019.
The Greek capital, Attiki, was the only region in the EU where less than 50 % of four year-old children attended early childhood education.
Capital regions act as magnets for highly-qualified people: especially in Inner London - West, where more than 7 out of 10 in working-age had a tertiary education.
Education, vocational training and more generally lifelong learning play a vital role in the economic and social strategies of the European Union (EU). This article presents data following the natural progression through different levels of the education system (following the international standard classification of education (ISCED)) and also analyses transitions into the labour force, with data on: participation rates among four year-olds; students in vocational training; early leavers from education and training; the share of young people neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET); the share of the population with a tertiary degree; employment rates for recent graduates; and adult participation in learning.
In 2016, there were 109 million children, pupils and students enrolled in the EU-28 across all levels of education from pre-primary through to postgraduate studies. It is widely accepted that a basic level of education is desirable, so that everyone has the opportunity to participate in economic and social life, raising their chances of finding employment and reducing their risk of falling into poverty or social exclusion. While education and training may help increase an individual’s personal development and well-being, from a broader perspective, they are also considered crucial to driving forwards both economic and social progress. This is particularly the case in a globalised and knowledge-driven economy, where a highly-skilled workforce is necessary to compete in terms of productivity, quality, and innovation.
International standard classification of education (ISCED)
As national education systems vary in terms of structure and curricular content, it can be difficult to make spatial or temporal comparisons when assessing the performance of different systems. In order to interpret the inputs, processes and outcomes of education systems from a global perspective, education statistics are compiled according to the international standard classification of education (ISCED). It is used to assemble a wide variety of statistics on a broad range of education topics including enrolments and attendance, human or financial investment in education, and educational attainment.
ISCED is the reference classification for organising education programmes and related qualifications by education levels and fields into internationally agreed categories. The framework is occasionally updated in order to capture new developments in education systems worldwide better and the most recent version of the classification — ISCED 2011 — was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in November 2011. Categories have been added to the classification of education levels in recognition of the expansion of early childhood education and the restructuring of tertiary education. Within ISCED 2011 the following levels are identified:
- 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.
Tertiary education refers to an aggregate composed of ISCED levels 5-8.
Early childhood education
Research has shown that children’s first years are often critical for their long-term development, as early childhood and primary education can play a key role in redressing life chances through tackling inequalities and raising proficiency in basic competences. Early childhood education (ISCED level 0) is typically designed with a holistic approach to support children’s early cognitive, physical, social and emotional development, with two categories of programmes: early childhood educational development (level 01) and pre-primary education (level 02). Primary education (ISCED level 1) programmes are typically designed to provide students with fundamental skills in reading, writing and mathematics, in other words developing literacy and numeracy.
The education and training 2020 (ET 2020) strategic framework set a headline target, whereby at least 95 % of children between the age of four and the age for starting compulsory primary education should participate in early childhood education by 2020; this share already stood at 95.5 % in the EU-28 in 2016.
The Greek capital city region of Attiki was the only region in the EU where fewer than half of all four year-olds participated in early childhood education
Figure 1 shows information for 2016 in relation to those NUTS level 2 regions with the highest and lowest participation rates of four year-olds in early childhood education; note that data for Germany and the United Kingdom are presented for NUTS level 1 regions. In 2015, the vast majority (93.8 %) of four year-old children in the EU-28 were enrolled in some form of education; most of them attended pre-primary education; although some children already attended primary education in Ireland, France and the United Kingdom at the age of four, it was not compulsory to do so.
The participation rate of four year-olds in early childhood education was 100 % in 12 regions across France, nine English regions in the United Kingdom (2015 data), four regions in Belgium, three regions in southern Italy, and in Malta (a single region at this level of detail; 2015 data). By contrast, 8 of the 10 lowest regional participation rates were recorded in Greece (2014 data), with by far the lowest rate in the capital city region of Attiki (28.3 %). The two non-Greek regions that featured among the bottom 10 were Východné Slovensko (eastern Slovenia) and Kontinentalna Hrvatska (continental Croatia).The second half of Figure 1 shows the regions characterised by the highest and lowest average growth rates concerning the participation of four year-olds in early childhood education during the period 2013-2016. It confirms a broad increase in participation rates for four year-olds across Poland in recent years; among the 16 NUTS level 2 regions in Poland, average rates of change were within the range of 4.9-11.7 % per annum, with only Cyprus (a single region at this level of detail) and the Irish region of Border, Midland and Western (2013-2015) recording average rates of change that were as high.
Vocational programmes in upper secondary education
Vocational education and training (VET) is designed for students to acquire the knowledge, skills and competencies specific to a particular occupation or trade. A growing number of policymakers have shown an interest in vocational education as it has the potential to help lower youth unemployment rates and facilitate the transition of young people from education into work/the labour market, especially when such programmes/apprenticeships teach specific skills that are required by employers.
Upper secondary education (ISCED level 3) education typically ends when students are aged 17 or 18. These programmes are usually designed in preparation for tertiary education and/or to provide skills that are relevant for employment. There were 10.3 million upper secondary students in the EU-28 that participated in vocational education programmes in 2015, equivalent to 47.3 % of all upper secondary students; the remainder participated in general upper secondary education programmes.
Figure 2 shows that the share of upper secondary students participating in vocational education programmes in 2016 varied considerably across NUTS level 2 regions. Some of these differences may be attributed to the availability of and perceptions concerning vocational education and training: for example, in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Austria, vocational education and training is widely seen as an effective way to help facilitate an individual’s transition into the labour market. In 2016, there were three NUTS level 2 regions in the EU where more than three quarters of all upper secondary students participated in vocational education: two of these were in the Czech Republic — Severozápad (76.9 %) and Jihozápad (75.5 %) — while the other was Oberösterreich (75.7 %) in western Austria.
Less than 10 % of all upper secondary students participated in vocational education programmes in Ireland and Scotland
By contrast, vocational education programmes accounted for less than one quarter of all upper secondary students in 10 different regions across the EU. The lowest shares, by far, were recorded in the two Irish regions — Southern and Eastern (1.4 %; 2013 data) and Border, Midland and Western (1.7 %; 2013 data) — while the NUTS level 1 region of Scotland (9.0 %; 2015 data) in the United Kingdom was the only other region to record a share below 10 %. There were three NUTS level 2 regions where the share of students participating in vocational programmes was situated within the range of 10-20 %: the island regions of Malta and Cyprus (both single regions at this level of detail) and Közép-Magyarország (the capital city region of Hungary). In general, there were relatively low levels of vocational education across Hungary, as these programmes accounted for less than one quarter of all upper secondary students in four more Hungarian regions, while the shares in the remaining Hungarian regions peaked at 27.9 %.The second half of Figure 2 shows the regions characterised by the highest and lowest average growth rates concerning their share of students who were in upper secondary education following vocational programmes during the period 2013-2016. It reveals an increase in vocational education in two of the regions with the lowest participation rates — Cyprus and Scotland — although the share of students following vocational educational programmes rose at its most rapid pace in the NUTS level 1 region of Wales (up 9.3 % per annum; 2013-2015). The next highest growth rates were recorded exclusively among Spanish regions.
Early leavers from education and training
Early leavers from education and training are defined as the proportion of individuals aged 18-24 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 labour force survey (LFS)). This indicator is both an ET 2020 benchmark and a Europe 2020 target; in both cases, the policy goal is to reduce the proportion of early leavers in the EU-28 to below 10 %.
In 2017, the share of EU-28 early leavers from education and training stood at 10.6 %; this was 0.1 percentage points lower than a year before and continued a pattern of continually falling rates over the last decade.
The lowest share of early leavers from education and training was in the Czech capital city region of Praha
Map 1 shows that it was quite common to find capital city regions and other dynamic, urban regions recording relatively low shares of early leavers from education and training. This may reflect a number of factors, including: more choice for education programmes; a wider range of education and labour market opportunities; or a higher level of educational attainment among parents.
The share of early leavers from education and training was below the 10.0 % benchmark in approximately half — 134 out of 262 — of the NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (as shown by the two lightest shades in the map). The lowest shares of early leavers were concentrated in eastern Europe, as among the 22 regions with shares below 5 % there were: seven regions from Poland; two regions from the Czech Republic — including the capital city region of Praha (1.6 %), which had the lowest share in the EU; both regions from Croatia; and single regions from Bulgaria and Slovenia. The remaining regions with shares of early leavers that were less than 5 % included: two Greek regions (2016 data for Thessalia) and single regions from each of Belgium, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and the United Kingdom.The regions with the highest shares of early leavers from education and training were principally concentrated in southern of Spain, Bulgaria and Romania, although it was also quite common to find relatively high shares of early leavers in island and peripheral regions (where it might be the case that students had to leave home if they wished to follow a particular course).
Young people neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET)
The share of young people (aged 18-24) who were neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET), is expressed relative to the total population of 18-24 year-olds; note that the numerator includes not only young people who are unemployed but also young people who are economically inactive for reasons other than education or training, because they are caring for family members, volunteering or travelling, are disabled, or are economically inactive for some other reason.
Having risen during the global financial and economic crisis to a peak of 17.2 % in 2012, the EU-28’s NEET rate fell during five consecutive years to 14.3 % by 2017. Based on an analysis by NUTS level 2 region, 10 of the 14 lowest NEET rates in the EU were located in the Netherlands: Utrecht, Overijssel, Noord-Brabant, Limburg, Groningen, Gelderland and Noord-Holland (the capital city region) all reported NEET rates within the range of 4.6-5.3 % in 2017. However, the Czech capital city region of Praha had the lowest NEET rate within the EU, at 2.7 %.
There were 31 NUTS level 2 regions in the EU where the NEET rate was at least 22.5 % (as shown by the darkest shade in Map 2); these relatively high shares tended to be concentrated in southern, eastern or outermost regions. The 11 highest NEET rates — where more than one third of all young people were neither in employment nor in education or training in 2017 — were located in: Sicilia, Campania, Puglia and Calabria (southern Italy); Voreio Aigaio, Peloponnisos, Ionia Nisia and Sterea Ellada (Greece); Guyane and La Réunion (both French overseas regions); and the Spanish region of Ciudad Autónoma de Melilla.
A closer analysis of regional patterns within individual EU Member States reveals that it was common for capital city regions to have relatively low shares of young people who were neither in employment nor in education or training. There were however some exceptions, such as the capital city regions of Belgium, Germany and Austria: the NEET rate for the Belgian capital Région de Bruxelles-Capitale / Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest was 46 % higher than the Belgian national average, while similar comparisons for Berlin and Wien reveal that their NEET rates were 43 % and 36 % higher respectively than national averages.Another pattern apparent for several EU Member States was for some of the highest NEET rates to be recorded for regions characterised as former industrial heartlands. For example, two of the highest NEET rates in Belgium were recorded in Prov. Hainaut and Prov. Liège, while relatively high NEET rates were recorded in the French regions of Champagne-Ardenne, Picardie and Nord - Pas-de-Calais, or the United Kingdom regions of Merseyside, West Midlands, Tees Valley and Durham.
Tertiary educational attainment
Tertiary education (ISCED levels 5-8) builds on secondary education, providing learning activities in particular fields of education at a higher level of complexity. It is offered by universities, vocational establishments, institutes of technology and other institutions that award academic degrees and/or professional certificates.
There are a range of policy challenges in relation to tertiary (higher) education, among which: increasing participation (especially among disadvantaged groups); reducing drop-out rates and the time it takes some individuals to complete their course; making degree courses more relevant for the world of work. With a growing share of the EU-28 population having a tertiary level of educational attainment, some concerns have been expressed that certain regions have developed skills mismatches with a growing share of the labour force overqualified.
More than 7 out of every 10 people of working-age who were living in Inner London - West had a tertiary level of educational attainment
The tertiary educational attainment indicator shown in Map 3 provides information on the share of the working age population — defined here as 25-64 years — who had successfully completed a tertiary education programme; note that in most countries students have completed their tertiary education programmes before the age of 25. In 2017, almost one third (31.4 %) of the EU-28 working-age population possessed a tertiary level of educational attainment; this was 7.9 percentage points higher than the corresponding share from a decade earlier and 0.7 points higher than a year before.
The main characteristic of Map 3 is that capital city regions would appear to act as a magnet for highly-qualified people. This was particularly true in several northern and western EU Member States, where capital city regions exerted considerable ‘pull effects’ through the varied employment opportunities that they could offer higher education graduates; for example, capital cities are often the headquarters for large organisations (in both the public and private sectors), or for creative and dynamic industries. The attraction of some cities has the potential to create labour market imbalances as the growing share of graduates moving towards capital city regions for work, may result in the gentrification of formerly working-class areas, with people on relatively low salaries being driven out of capital city regions (due to the high cost of living) and instead having to commute (often relatively long distances) to work. Furthermore, the pull of capital city regions also means that some graduates are prepared to accept work for which they are over-qualified. In recent years this pattern has extended beyond national labour markets, with a growing share of the EU-28’s highly-qualified working-age population crossing borders in search of work (in particular, moving from east to west within the EU).
In 2017, there were 11 NUTS level 2 regions where a majority of the population aged 25-64 had a tertiary level of educational attainment. Six of these regions were in the United Kingdom: five of these were capital city regions (of which the United Kingdom has two at NUTS level 2) or regions within close proximity of the capital, including the region with the highest share, Inner London - West (71.7 %), while the sixth was Eastern Scotland. Outside of the United Kingdom, the remaining five regions where more than half of the working-age population had a tertiary level of educational attainment included the Nordic capital city regions of Helsinki-Uusimaa, Stockholm and Hovedstaden and the two (suburban) regions that surround the Belgian capital, Prov. Brabant Wallon and Prov. Vlaams-Brabant.By contrast, there were several regions in the EU where less than one fifth of the working-age population had a tertiary level of educational attainment (as shown by the lightest shade in the map). These were often rural regions characterised as local economies concentrated on agriculture, with a generally low level of demand for highly-skilled labour.
Employment rates of recent graduates
The indicator for the employment rate of recent graduates (as shown in Map 4) is focused on young people aged 20-34 who were in employment and who had successfully completed their education within the previous 1-3 years, obtaining at least an upper-secondary level of educational attainment: hereafter these are referred to as recent graduates. Increasing the employability of young people is considered to be an integral part of the ET 2020 strategy, with the goal that education and training can be used to meet current and future labour market challenges. In 2012, a benchmark on the employability of graduates from education and training was established, whereby EU policymakers sought to ensure that 82 % of recent young graduates should be in employment by 2020.
Recent graduates in Greece and southern Italy appeared to face considerable difficulties in finding work
The EU-28 employment rate for recent graduates was 80.2 % in 2017: this was 4.8 points higher than the latest relative low recorded in the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis, 75.4 % in 2013. The employment rate for recent graduates was equal to or above the 82 % benchmark in more than half — 145 out of 268 — of the NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available. The highest rates were concentrated across much of Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria.
A more detailed analysis shows that employment rates for recent graduates stood at 100.0 % in North Eastern Scotland and Cumbria (both in the United Kingdom). The next highest employment rates for recent graduates were located in the Czech region of Strední Cechy (surrounding the capital city region of Praha), Trier (western Germany), Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire; North Yorkshire; Eastern Scotland (all in the United Kingdom): in all five of these, at least 19 out of 20 recent graduates were in employment. In total, 57 regions recorded rates of at least 90.0 % in 2017 (as shown by the darkest shade in Map 4).In 2017, there were 14 NUTS level 2 regions where fewer than half of all recent graduates had found employment. These regions were predominantly situated in Greece and (southern) Italy — where the lowest rates in the EU were recorded — for example, Campania (36.4 %), Sicilia (32.2 %) and Calabria (28.3 %); very low rates were also recorded in two French overseas regions, Martinique and La Réunion.
The participation rate in adult learning is defined as the share of adult population (aged 25-64) that received formal or non-formal education or training (during the four weeks preceding the labour force survey); note that the adult education survey (AES) provides a more comprehensive measure of adult learning (given it is based on a complete 12-month reference period), however, sample sizes are not sufficient for an analysis for NUTS level 2 regions.
In 2017, more than one tenth (10.9 %) of the EU-28 adult population participated in education and training (during the four weeks prior to the survey); this marked a modest increase in relation to a decade before, as the rate had been 9.4 % in 2007. An analysis of participation rates for the 275 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available reveals that a clear majority of regions — 159, or 58 % of the total — had participation rates that were below the EU-28 average. The distribution of participation rates across individual EU Member States was generally homogeneous, probably reflecting the organisation of education and training initiatives at a national level. The highest participation rates for adult learning were recorded in the Nordic Member States, France and the Netherlands, while the lowest rates were registered in eastern Europe and Greece.
Looking in more detail at the results presented in Map 5, the southern Swedish region of Sydsverige and the Swedish capital city region of Stockholm (both 31.6 %) recorded the highest participation rates for adult learning in 2017. They were joined by two more Swedish regions — Västsverige and Östra Mellansverige — as well as the other two Nordic capital city regions of Hovedstaden and Helsinki-Uusimaa as the only NUTS level 2 regions in the EU where in excess of 3 out of 10 adults participated in education and training.At the other end of the range, there were 46 regions in the EU where the participation rate for adult learning was less than 5.0 % (as shown by the lightest shade in the map). They included all six regions from Bulgaria, all eight regions in Romania, both regions in Croatia, 13 of the 16 regions in Poland, 10 of the 13 regions in Greece, three of the four regions in Slovakia, and three of the seven regions in Hungary. These 45 regions from eastern and southern Europe were joined by Prov. Hainaut (Belgium), which was the only region in western Europe to record a rate below 5.0 %.
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 and this is provided by the international standard classification of education (ISCED). ISCED 2011 provides the basis for the statistics presented in this article: it was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in November 2011.
For more information:
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 Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Eurostat, often referred to as the UOE data collection exercise; data on regional enrolments are collected separately by Eurostat. The UOE data collection exercise is principally based on administrative sources, as provided 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.
For more information:
The EU’s labour force survey provides data on early leavers from education and training, NEETs, the share of population by educational attainment level, employment rates of recent graduates, and information pertaining to adult learning. It covers the total population of individuals living in private households and is updated twice a year during the spring (with information for a new reference year) and the autumn. Labour force survey data for Estonia and Austria has a level shift (a break in series) in 2014.
For more information:
Each of the EU Member States is responsible for its own education and training policy. However, the EU supports national actions and helps EU Member States to address common education and training challenges through what is known as the open method of coordination: it offers a policy forum for discussing topical issues (for example, ageing societies, skills deficits, or global competition) and provides Member States with an opportunity to exchange best practices. Education and training 2020 (ET 2020) is a key European policy that has four common objectives: making lifelong learning and mobility a reality; improving the quality and efficiency of education and training; promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship; and enhancing creativity and innovation, including entrepreneurship. As part of the framework, eight EU benchmarks have been set, with the goal of ensuring the ET 2020 objectives are achieved by 2020. In 2015, there was a stocktaking exercise in relation to the implementation of the ET 2020 framework, which resulted in six new priority areas for European cooperation, namely:
- promoting lifelong learning with a focus on learning outcomes for employability, innovation, active citizenship and well-being;
- inclusive education and the promotion of civic competences;
- open and innovative education and training;
- support for teachers, trainers, school leaders and other educational staff;
- transparency and recognition of skills and qualifications to facilitate learning and labour mobility;
- sustainable investment, quality and efficiency of education and training systems.
EU cohesion policy invests in people’s skills and competences, which are crucial for ensuring the long-term competitiveness of Europe, while promoting social cohesion by encouraging all citizens to benefit from more and better jobs. The European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) support activities which are designed to help:
- modernise education and training systems, including investments in educational infrastructure;
- reduce early school leaving;
- promote better access to good quality education for all;
- enhance access to lifelong learning;
- strengthen vocational education and training systems.
For more information:
Joint report of the Council and the Commission on the implementation of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020) — New priorities for European cooperation in education and training
- Education and training in the EU — facts and figures (online publication)
- Eurostat regional yearbook
- The EU has almost reached its target for share of persons aged 30 to 34 with tertiary education — the share of early leavers from education and training continues decreasing — News release April 2018
- Girls and women under-represented in ICT
- Education in your country
- Almost half of EU pupils study vocational programmes
- Teachers in the EU
- Regional education statistics (t_reg_educ)
- Participation in education and training (t_educ_part)
- Participation rates of 4-years-olds in education by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00092)
- Pupils in primary and lower secondary education (ISCED 1-2) by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00095)
- Pupils and students in upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED 3-4) by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00093)
- Students in tertiary education (ISCED 5-6) by NUTS 2 region(tgs00094)
- Education and training outcomes (t_educ_outc)
- Tertiary educational attainment, age group 30-34 by sex and NUTS 1 regions (tgs00105)
- Tertiary educational attainment, age group 25-64 by sex and NUTS 2 regions (tgs00109)
- 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)
- 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)
- Young people by educational and labour status (incl. neither in employment nor in education and training - NEET) (edatt0)
- Early leavers from education and training (edatt1)
- Educational attainment level (edat)
- Regional education statistics (ESMS metadata file — reg_educ_esms)