Education and training statistics at regional level
Data extracted in April 2021.
Planned article update: September 2022.
In 2020, there were 30 regions across the EU where every child between the age of three and the age of starting compulsory primary education participated in early childhood education.
Every young woman (aged 20-24 years) from the Greek region of Thessalia had at least an upper secondary level of educational attainment in 2020; for young men of the same age, the highest share was recorded in another Greek region, Dytiki Makedonia (99.1 %).
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 COVID-19 pandemic put considerable pressure on the education and training sector and often resulted in a widespread shift to remote learning during specific lockdown periods. This change in the 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.
This article 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 2019, while the latest data on transitions into the labour market are for 2020.
In 2019, there were 95 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). They 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);
- languages (in terms of language learning and self-reported language skills);
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 and primary education programmes are designed to play a key role in redressing life chances through tackling inequalities and raising proficiency in basic competences. In addition, they provide children with the opportunity to develop learning, critical thinking and collaborative skills. Such programmes are considered to be ‘educational’ within ISCED and therefore constitute the first level of education in education and training systems.
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 of ensuring that, by 2030, at least 96 % of children in this age group are participating in early childhood education.
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
Across the EU, there were 15.6 million children enrolled in early childhood education in 2019; young boys accounted for a 51.5 % share of pupils at this level. Map 1 shows a more detailed analysis for 218 NUTS level 2 regions; note that statistics presented for Germany relate to NUTS level 1 regions. It is possible to observe a remarkable difference in terms of regional participation rates, with higher rates recorded in many of the westernmost regions of the EU and lower rates across most eastern regions. 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 orange). Looking in more detail, there were 75 regions (in other words, just over one third of all EU regions for which data are available) where the headline target of 96.0 % had already been attained in 2019. These regions were mostly located in Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Spain and France — where (practically) all children between the age of 3 years and the age for starting compulsory primary education participated in early childhood education. There were also several regions in (predominantly southern) Italy, Portugal and Sweden, as well as single regions from each of Lithuania and Poland where this target had already been achieved.
In 2019, the proportion of young children participating in early childhood education was less than 75.0 % in approximately one twentieth of all the regions for which data are available (12 out of 207). These regions with relatively low participation rates (as shown by the darkest shade of blue in Map 1) were concentrated in Greece (eight regions); Mayotte (France), Nord-Est (Romania) and Východné Slovensko (Slovakia) also had relatively low rates. The lowest proportion of young children participating in early childhood education was recorded in Voreio Aigaio in Greece, at 55.0 %.
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 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 2019, there were 17.6 million students enrolled in the EU’s upper secondary education programmes, with just over half of these (51.6 %) 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 standing of general education and vocational education programmes. Among the 218 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (note that statistics presented for Germany relate to NUTS level 1 regions), there were 119 EU regions where a majority of upper secondary students followed general education programmes, leaving 99 regions where a majority of upper secondary students followed vocational education programmes. Some of these differences between regions can be attributed to the availability of and perceptions concerning general and/or vocational education in each of the EU Member States. For example, a majority of upper secondary students in Ireland or Greece follow general education programmes (as a stepping stone to tertiary education), whereas students in Czechia or Finland are more likely to follow vocational education programmes.
In 2019, there were 23 regions across the EU where the share of upper secondary students following a general education programme was at least 67.5 % (as shown by the darkest shade of orange in Map 2). These regions were concentrated in Ireland (all three regions), Greece (9 out of 13 regions), Lithuania (both regions), Cyprus and Malta. This group also included the capital regions of Hovedstaden (Denmark), Stockholm (Sweden), Comunidad de Madrid (Spain) and Île-de-France (France), as well as Andalucía in Spain, Brandenburg in Germany (that encircles the German capital region of Berlin; NUTS level 1) and Região Autónoma da Madeira in Portugal. Almost three quarters 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 24 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 darkest shade of blue) and therefore where a relatively high share of students followed vocational education programmes. These regions were located in Czechia (every region except for the capital region of Praha), the Netherlands and Austria. This group also included Pohjois- ja Itä-Suomi, Etelä-Suomi (both Finland), Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano/Bozen (Italy), Západné Slovensko (Slovakia) and Vzhodna Slovenija (Slovenia). The latter 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 (24.1 %) and Severozápad in Czechia (23.4 %).
Female upper secondary students were more likely (than male students) to enrol in general education programmes
In 2019, there were 8.6 million female upper secondary students in the EU, a majority of whom (58.4 %) were enrolled in general education programmes. By contrast, there were 9.0 million male upper secondary students, with a lower share (45.0 %) 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 2019, the highest shares among female students were recorded in Cyprus (91.6 %), Ionia Nisia in Greece (87.9 %) and Sostinės regionas (the capital region of Lithuania; 86.7 %). The highest shares among male students were recorded in the Irish regions of Eastern and Midland (the capital region; 77.4 %) and Southern (76.3 %), as well as in Sostinės regionas (75.9 %).
In 2019, at least 7 out of 10 female upper secondary students followed a vocational education programme in Severozápad in Czechia, three Dutch regions — Groningen, Friesland and Flevoland — as well as 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 and Moravskoslezsko 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 tertiary educational institutes — can play an important role in society, by fostering innovation, increasing economic development and growth, and improving more generally individual well-being.
The number of people enrolling in tertiary education across the EU has risen in recent decades, reflecting a number of factors in different EU Member States or their regions, such as: changing demographics; changing patterns of 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; affordability (such as 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 people participating in lifelong learning.
There were 17.8 million students enrolled in the EU’s tertiary education establishments in 2019. They accounted for almost one in five (19.1 %) 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 (53.7 % 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 regional distribution was somewhat skewed, insofar as there were 74 regions with a share above the EU average of 19.1 % (those regions shown in orange), compared with 129 regions with shares below the EU average (shown in blue). Many urban and capital regions recorded relatively high participation rates for 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 over time for the share of young people within the total population or the fertility rate).
In 2019, 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 approximately one tenth (21 out of 203) of the NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available; note only national data are available for Germany. Among these regions — which are shown in the darkest shade of orange in Map 3 — tertiary students accounted for more than 40.0 % of all pupils and students in La Rioja (Spain), Wien (the capital region of Austria), and three Greek regions — Dytiki Makedonia, Ipeiros and Dytiki Ellada — the latter being the only region in the EU where an absolute majority (51.2 %) of pupils and students were enrolled within tertiary education. At the other end of the range, there were five regions in the EU where tertiary students accounted for less than 5.0 % of all pupils and students in 2019: Sud-Muntenia (Romania), Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano/Bozen (Italy), Severozapaden (Bulgaria), Střední Čechy (Czechia) and Mayotte (France); the last two of these recorded the lowest shares in the EU, at 1.8 %.
There were more women (than men) studying for bachelor’s and master’s degrees
In 2019, 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 (5.2 million), while there were 666 thousand 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 (57.3 % were women) and somewhat smaller among those studying for a bachelor’s degree (53.5 % were women). By contrast, a small majority (51.8 %) 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 2019, there were 714 thousand tertiary students enrolled in Île-de-France (the French capital region), 409 thousand in Comunidad de Madrid (the Spanish capital region) and 379 thousand in Cataluña (also in Spain). The only other NUTS level 2 regions in the EU with more than 300 thousand tertiary students were Andalucía in Spain and Lombardia in Italy; note only national statistics are available for Germany.
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 15 regions across the EU where there were no tertiary students enrolled to study for a doctoral degree in 2019, whereas 13.8 % of male tertiary students and 9.5 % of female tertiary students in Luxembourg were enrolled to study for a doctoral degree (the highest shares in the EU). Several (other) capital regions — those of Finland, Czechia, Sweden and Portugal — 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 enjoy 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
Within the domain of educational attainment, the EU has several policy targets. Among these, the EU aims to ensure that the share of early leavers (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 (as covered here), namely, the share of people aged 20-24 years with at least an upper secondary (or intermediate) level of educational attainment. 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 population 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 2020 from 76.8 % to 84.0 %.
The share of young people with at least an intermediate level of education peaked at 99.0 % in Thessalia
Map 4 shows the proportion of young people with at least an intermediate level of education in 2020. Among the 238 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (2019 data for Germany; no information for Mayotte in France or Åland in Finland), there were 23 regions where this measure of educational attainment was at least 92.5 % (as shown by the darkest shade of orange). 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), Croatia (both regions) and Greece (8 out of 13 regions). The remaining regions with very high shares included the capital regions of Hungary, Czechia, Bulgaria, France and Lithuania, as well as three additional regions from France and single regions from each of Poland and Slovenia. The central Greek region of Thessalia had the highest share of young people aged 20-24 years having attained at least an intermediate level of educational attainment, at 99.0 %. The second and third highest shares were also recorded in Greek regions: Ipeiros (98.6 %) and Dytiki Makedonia (98.2 %).
At the other end of the spectrum, the lowest levels of intermediate educational attainment — less than 75.0 % — were primarily recorded across north-western regions of Germany, northern Sweden, southern Denmark and southern Spain. There were also very low levels of intermediate educational attainment in three outermost regions of the EU — Região Autónoma dos Açores (Portugal), Guyane (France) and Canarias (Spain) — and in Yugoiztochen (Bulgaria).
People with a tertiary level of educational attainment
One of the seven EU policy targets proposed 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 25-34 year-olds 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 2020, just over two fifths (40.2 %) of the EU population aged 25-34 years had a tertiary level of educational attainment; note that some students within this age group might still be studying. Of the 238 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (2019 data for Germany; no information for Mayotte in France or Åland in Finland), there were 61 regions that had already reached or surpassed the EU policy target of 45.0 % (as shown by the darkest two shades of orange 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 approximately three quarters of all EU regions.
At the top end of the distribution, there were nine regions in the EU where at least 6 out of every 10 people aged 25-34 years had a tertiary level of educational attainment in 2020. They included the capital regions of Lithuania, Poland, France, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland, as well as Utrecht (a research hub, with one of the largest universities in the Netherlands) and País Vasco in northern Spain (where the regional economy specialises in innovation, research and high-technology manufacturing). Relatively high shares of tertiary educational attainment were also recorded in several other regions specialised in research activities and high-technology manufacturing, for example, Prov. Brabant Wallon (Belgium), Southern (Ireland) or Midi-Pyrénées (France). 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 29 regions in the EU where less than a quarter of all people aged 25-34 years had a tertiary level of educational attainment in 2020 (as shown by the darkest shade of blue). These regions were principally concentrated in eastern EU Member States, as well as several predominantly eastern regions of Germany (2019 data) and several predominantly southern regions of Italy, but also included Guyane (an outermost region of France) and Região Autónoma dos Açores (in Portugal). 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 directly into the labour market via 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 two Romanian regions — Nord-Est (16.9 %), Sud-Muntenia (15.9 %) — and the Czech region of Severozápad (15.6 %).
Transition from education to work
The final section of this article 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 pandemic).
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.
In 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) was 79.1 %; as such, it stood 2.9 percentage points below the target for 2025. Map 6 shows that employment rates of recent vocational graduates were relatively high in a cluster of regions covering Sweden, Denmark and Germany, as well as a majority of the regions in Czechia, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. Among the 192 regions for which data are available (for mixed reference periods covering 2018-2020), there were five regions where all recent graduates successfully found work. The employment rate of recent graduates from vocational programmes was 100.0 % in: Flevoland and Zeeland in the Netherlands (both 2020 data), Luxembourg and its neighbouring region of Trier in Germany (both 2019 data), and Övre Norrland in Sweden (also 2019 data).
The lowest employment rates for recent vocational graduates were recorded in southern regions of the EU. There were 20 regions where less than half of all recent vocational graduates had found work in 2020 and these were located in: Greece (all four NUTS level 1 regions), predominantly southern regions of Spain (2019 data for Extremadura), predominantly southern regions of Italy, as well as régions ultrapériphériques françaises (NUTS level 1; 2019 data). The lowest regional employment rates of recent graduates from vocational programmes were recorded in three Italian regions: Campania (32.6 %), Calabria (25.6 %) and Sicilia (24.8 %).
Early leavers from education and training
Within the EU, education policy seeks to ensure that all Europeans (irrespective of age) have the skills, knowledge and capabilities to manage and 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 in this domain is the proportion of early leavers from education and training, in other words, the share of 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 4 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.
During the last two decades, the share of early leavers from education and training has 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 reductions in the following two years: by 2020, 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 10.1 %.
The share of early leavers from education and training in the EU was higher among young men (12.0 %) than among young women (8.1 %)
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 2020 was 12.0 % among young men, which was 3.9 percentage points higher than the corresponding share among young women (8.1 %). This pattern was repeated in the vast majority of EU Member States — as only Czechia and Romania recorded lower rates for young men — with the largest gender gaps recorded in southern EU Member States, particularly those on the Iberian Peninsula.
The proportion of early leavers from education and training was already less than 9.0 % in approximately half of EU regions: 110 out of 222 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (note the latest information available is for mixed reference periods covering 2018-2020). Some of the lowest shares of early leavers were concentrated in eastern regions of the EU, in particular across parts of Czechia, Croatia, Hungary and Poland. However, the lowest overall (young men and young women combined) share of early leavers from education and training was recorded in Kentriki Makedonia in Greece (1.3 %).
The highest regional shares of early leavers from education and training were often concentrated in southern Europe and across much of Bulgaria and Romania, as well as sparsely-populated, island and/or peripheral regions of the EU, where 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. The islands of Região Autónoma dos Açores in Portugal had the highest overall share of early leavers from education and training in 2020, at 27.0 %.
Looking in more detail, 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, while the highest rates among young women were 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 3.0 % — were recorded in Attiki (the capital region of Greece), Kentriki Makedonia (also in Greece; 2018 data) and Kontinentalna Hrvatska (the capital region of Croatia). There were also three regions where the share of early leavers among young men was less than 3.0 %: Kontinentalna Hrvatska, Jadranska Hrvatska (also in Croatia) and Praha (the capital region of Czechia).
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 in this article.
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. These statistics are provided to Eurostat on the basis of a gentleman’s agreement.
The UOE data collection exercise is principally based on administrative sources 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.
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. It is updated twice a year, with information for each new reference year being made available in the spring of the following year. Note that labour force survey data by educational attainment level for Estonia and Austria have a level shift (a break in series) in 2014.
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 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 completed. 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) introduced two targets:
- The share of early leavers from education and training (as defined by 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 from a vocational programme within the last 1-3 years) meeting two criteria, namely:
- being in employment, and;
- not in any further (formal or non-formal) education or training (during the 4 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 for this indicator. 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 LFS. 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 allows Member States 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, including: to improve the development of key competences (such as literacy, languages, digital skills and entrepreneurship); to make 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) of European average 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 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 EUR 750 billion instrument designed to help repair the economic and social damage brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 COVID-19 pandemic, 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.
Cohesion policy supports the development of people’s skills and competences. This is considered to be crucial for ensuring the long-term competitiveness of the EU. Education and training was one of 11 priority areas for cohesion policy during the period 2014-2020. The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) support activities to: modernise education and training systems; reduce early school leaving; promote better access to good quality education for all; enhance access to lifelong learning; and strengthen vocational education and training systems.
Erasmus was launched 30 years ago and has helped around 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. The programme aims to promote student and teacher mobility — often in the form of exchange programmes — within education, training, youth and sport. Following agreement on the multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027, total funding for the Erasmus+ programme will amount to EUR 21.7 billion (in 2018 prices), along with a EUR 2.2 billion share of additional ‘top-up’ funding.
- Education and training in the EU — facts and figures (online publication)
- Almost half of EU pupils study vocational programmes
- Early childhood education across EU regions
- Early leavers from education and training across EU regions
- Eurostat regional yearbook
- In which subjects do EU (tertiary) students graduate?
- The EU has reached its tertiary education target — News release April 2020
- 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)
- Methodological manual on territorial typologies — Eurostat — 2018 edition
- Regional education statistics (ESMS metadata file — reg_educ_esms)