Education and training statistics at regional level
Data extracted in April 2020.
Planned article update: September 2021.
In 2018, Attiki (the Greek capital region) and Východné Slovensko (the easternmost region of Slovakia) were the only regions in the EU where less than 70 % of children between the age of four and the age for starting compulsory primary education participated in early childhood education.
In 2019, there were three regions at the geographic limits of the EU where more than one quarter of 18-24 year-olds were early leavers from education and training: Yugoiztochen (Bulgaria), Região Autónoma dos Açores (Portugal) and Guyane (France).
Alongside health, education is often considered as one of the most important investments a country can make in its people. Education has the potential to drive forward socioeconomic development: this is particularly the case in a globalised world, where a highly-skilled workforce is necessary to compete in terms of productivity and innovation.
Education, vocational training and lifelong learning play a vital role in the economic and social strategies of the European Union (EU). The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training is called Education and training 2020 (ET 2020). It pursues four common objectives: make lifelong learning and mobility a reality; improve the quality and efficiency of education and training; promote equity, social cohesion and active citizenship; enhance creativity and innovation, including entrepreneurship.
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.
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 their performance. In order to interpret the inputs, processes and outcomes of education systems, official statistics on education are compiled according to the international standard classification of education (ISCED). It is used to assemble a wide variety of statistics, covering topics such as enrolments and attendance, educational attainment, or human or financial investment.
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 is used to refer to higher levels of education (ISCED levels 5-8).
In 2018, there were almost 92 million children, pupils and students enrolled across the EU-27 in all levels of education from early childhood through to doctoral studies.
Early childhood education (and care)
Research has shown that early experiences of children are often critical for their long-term development. Early childhood and primary education are thought to play a key role in potentially redressing life chances through tackling inequalities and raising proficiency in basic competences. One of the first opportunities children have to develop learning, critical thinking and collaborative skills is if they attend early childhood education (ISCED level 0); this has to include an educational component, in contrast to child care that may be provided by a crèche or a child minder.
There were 34 regions across the EU where all children between the age of four and the age for starting compulsory primary education participated in early childhood education
The ET 2020 strategic framework set a headline target to have, by 2020, at least 95 % of children between the age of four and the age for starting compulsory primary education participating in early childhood education. In 2018, this share stood at 96.2 % across the EU-27 — in other words the headline target had been surpassed.
Map 1 shows a more detailed analysis for 218 NUTS level 2 regions. It reveals that there were 132 regions (in other words, approximately 6 out of 10) where the headline target of 95.0 % had been attained (those regions shaded in blue); note that statistics presented for Germany relate to NUTS level 1 regions. There were 34 regions — predominantly located in Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and France — where all children between the age of four and the age for starting compulsory primary education participated in early childhood education.
While EU Member States have made a number of reforms designed to increase the proportion of young children participating in early childhood education, it is unlikely (at the current rate of progress) that these will result in every region reaching the headline target by 2020. All of the regions of Bulgaria, Czechia, Greece, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia reported a share of children between the age of four and the age for starting compulsory primary education participating in early childhood education in 2018 below 95.0 % (shaded in yellow). The lowest participation rates — with fewer than 7 out of 10 children from this subpopulation participating in early childhood education — were recorded in Východné Slovensko (the easternmost region of Slovakia; 69.9 %) and Attiki (the capital region of Greece; 67.1 %).
Upper secondary education (ISCED level 3) typically ends when students are aged 17 or 18 years-old. These programmes are designed primarily to prepare students so that they may continue their studies at a higher level, or — as in the case of vocational education — provide them with the necessary skills and competencies that are relevant for a specific occupation or trade. Policymakers have shown interest in vocational education as it has the potential to help facilitate the transition of young people from education into the labour market and lower youth unemployment rates.
Almost half of all upper secondary students were enrolled in vocational education programmes
In 2018, there were 17.6 million students enrolled in the EU’s upper secondary education establishments, with almost half of these (48.4 %) participating in vocational education programmes; the remaining share followed general upper secondary education programmes that were more academic in nature.
The proportion of upper secondary students enrolled in vocational programmes varied considerably across EU regions. In 2018, a peak of 76.1 % was recorded in Severozápad (Czechia). Its share was 4.6 times that of the lowest share (16.7 %) recorded in Cyprus. Some of these differences between regions can be attributed to the availability of and perceptions concerning vocational education in each EU Member State: for example, in Czechia, Finland and Slovenia, vocational education is well developed and widely seen as an effective way of helping to facilitate an individual’s transition into the labour market. By contrast, vocational education systems were less common in southern and Baltic Member States, as well as in Ireland, France, Hungary and Sweden.
In 2018, there were 37 (out of 218) NUTS level 2 regions where the share of upper secondary students participating in vocational education was at least 65 %; note that statistics presented for Germany relate to NUTS level 1 regions. Both of the regions in Croatia and in Slovenia had shares that were above 65 % and this was also the case in all but one of the regions in Czechia, Austria, Slovakia and Finland. Within these four EU Member States, the only exceptions — where regional shares of upper secondary students participating in vocational education were below 65 % — were in the capital regions of Praha, Wien and Bratislavský kraj, as well as Åland (that had the smallest population among EU regions). Indeed, the proportion of upper secondary students enrolled in vocational programmes was often low in the EU’s capital regions, as they recorded the lowest share in more than two thirds of the multi-regional Member States; this may be linked to the high concentration of general and academic establishments in capital regions.
Male students were more likely (than female students) to enrol in vocational education programmes
In 2018, there were 8.5 million students enrolled in upper secondary vocational education across the EU-27, a majority of whom were male (4.9 million). The share of male students enrolled in upper secondary education that followed vocational programmes was 54.6 %, while the corresponding ratio for female students was lower at 41.8 %. As such, a greater share of female students at this level of education were following more academic studies.
Figure 1 shows the regions with the highest and lowest shares of male/female students within upper secondary education that followed vocational programmes. In 2018, the highest regional share among male students was in the northern Italian region of Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano/Bozen (83.9 %); more than four out of every five male students also followed vocational programmes in Vzhodna Slovenija (Slovenia), Oberösterreich (Austria), Severozápad and Moravskoslezsko (both Czechia).
In 2018, almost three quarters (73.5 %) of all female upper secondary students in Groningen (the Netherlands) were enrolled on vocational programmes. Three more Dutch regions — Friesland, Flevoland and Drenthe — as well as Severozápad (Czechia) and Etelä-Suomi (Finland) also reported that more than 7 out of every 10 female students in upper secondary education were following vocational programmes.
In 2018, the largest regional gender gaps were recorded in several Italian, German and Polish regions, where the proportion of male students within upper secondary education following vocational programmes was more than 20 percentage points above that for female students. By contrast, there were only eight regions where this gap was in favour of female students: all three regions of Ireland, four regions from Sweden, and Prov. Hainaut in Belgium.
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. That said, 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 education
In the last couple of decades, there has been a rapid expansion in the number of students participating in intermediate and higher levels of education. The share of the EU-27 working age population — defined here as those aged 25-64 years — that had attained at least an upper secondary level of education (ISCED levels 3-8) increased between 2002 and 2019 from 65.9 % to 78.4 %.
The share of the working age population with at least an intermediate level of education was almost three times as high in Praha as it was in Região Autónoma dos Açores
Map 3 shows that in 2019 a very high proportion of the working age population in the eastern Länder of Germany and several eastern and Baltic Member States had attained at least an intermediate level of education. These figures reflect, at least to some degree, former Communist regimes providing universal access to education, the impact of which can still be seen today in high levels of literacy and numeracy among older generations. The highest shares were recorded in the capital regions of Czechia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia: Praha (97.2 %), Sostinės regionas (96.9 %), Warszawski stołeczny (96.8 %) and Bratislavský kraj (96.0 %).
By contrast, the share of the working age population that had at least an intermediate level of education was generally much lower in southern regions of the EU. This was particularly true in six NUTS level 2 regions where less than 50.0 % of the working age population had attained at least an intermediate level of education. Four of these regions — Regiões Autónomas dos Açores y da Madeira, Norte and Alentejo — were located in Portugal, while the other two — Extremadura and Ciudad Autónoma de Ceuta — were in neighbouring Spain. Note that their older generations may have grown up in quite different socioeconomic conditions to those experienced by pupils and students today. Furthermore, both of these Iberian countries experienced the relatively late democratisation of their education systems and that they experience/experienced emigration of more highly-educated individuals (to other regions or countries).
Tertiary education (ISCED levels 5-8) builds on secondary education, providing learning activities at a higher level of complexity. It is offered by universities, vocational establishments, institutes of technology, as well as other institutions awarding academic degrees and/or professional certificates.
Less than half of all EU regions had reached the policy goal for tertiary educational attainment
Map 4 provides information on the share of the population aged 30-34 years who had successfully completed a tertiary education programme. This age group has been used as it is commonplace for most students to have completed their tertiary education during their twenties (even if they followed a masters or postgraduate course). This indicator forms part of a scoreboard used to monitor the European pillar of social rights and is also an ET 2020 benchmark indicator. The policy goal is to increase tertiary educational attainment across the EU to at least 40 % by 2020.
In 2019, more than two fifths (40.3 %) of the EU-27 population aged 30-34 years possessed a tertiary level of education; as such, the ET 2020 benchmark had been attained. However, a more detailed regional analysis reveals considerable territorial disparities — both within and across individual EU Member States. There were 101 NUTS level 2 regions (out of the 237 for which data are available) where at least 40.0 % of people aged 30-34 years had a tertiary level of educational attainment in 2019; these regions are shaded blue in Map 4. At the top end of the distribution, there were nine regions with shares of at least 60.0 %: the capital regions of Czechia, Denmark, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden; and Utrecht — a research hub, with one of the largest universities in the Netherlands. In a majority of the remaining multi-regional EU Member States, the capital region recorded the highest share of tertiary educational attainment. The only exceptions — where a non-capital region recorded the highest share — were Prov. Vlaams-Brabant (Belgium), País Vasco (Spain), Jadranska Hrvatska (Croatia), Emilia-Romagna (Italy) and Utrecht. 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.
By contrast, the share of people aged 30-34 years with a tertiary level of education remained below the ET 2020 benchmark of 40.0 % in more than half of the regions for which data are available in 2019; these regions are shaded in yellow. Many of these were rural or sparsely populated regions that had a relatively large agricultural sector, with a low level of supply of highly-skilled employment opportunities. It is interesting to note that in eastern Germany, Italy, Portugal and several eastern EU Member States, every region except for the capital region recorded a relatively low level of tertiary educational attainment. In many of these, the relatively low take-up of tertiary education opportunities reflects a (traditional) practice of following vocational programmes instead.
Transition from education to work
The final section of this article provides information on the transition of school-leavers and graduates from education to 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; the increased pace at which technology and globalisation disrupt some industries; or an overall lack of jobs (during periods of economic shock).
Early leavers from education and training
Education policy seeks to ensure that Europeans have the skills, knowledge and capabilities to manage and develop their careers throughout life. One particular area of policy interest is linked to reducing 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 four weeks preceding the EU labour force survey). This indicator forms part of a scoreboard used to monitor the European pillar of social rights and is also an ET 2020 benchmark indicator; the policy goal is to reduce the proportion of early leavers in the EU to less than 10.0 % by 2020.
Most of the EU regions with low shares of early leavers from education and training were concentrated in eastern Europe
In 2019, the share of early leavers from education and training in the EU-27 stood at 10.2 %; as such, it was very close to the benchmark target for 2020. The proportion of early leavers from education and training was already below 10.0 % in a majority — 128 out of 228 (or 56.1 %) — of NUTS level 2 regions, as denoted by the blue shaded regions in Map 5. Some of the lowest shares were concentrated in eastern Europe and in capital regions. The lowest regional share of early leavers from education and training (1.7 %) was recorded in the coastal/island region of Jadranska Hrvatska (Croatia). There were three other regions where no more than 1 in 50 young people were early leavers: the capital regions of Czechia and Lithuania — Praha and Sostinės regionas (both 1.9 %) — and the Greek region of Kentriki Makedonia (2.0 %).
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. The highest regional shares of early leavers from education and training were often concentrated in 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 tertiary education course or programme, leaving behind a higher concentration of early leavers. The share of early leavers from education and training was also relatively high in most of southern Europe and across most of Bulgaria and Romania. The south-eastern Bulgarian region of Yugoiztochen had the highest share of early leavers, at 27.2 % in 2019.
Although the proportion of early leavers from education and training was comparatively quite low in western EU Member States, their former industrial heartlands tended to record higher shares: for example, Prov. Liège (Belgium) or Nord-Pas de Calais (France). 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).
Employment rates for young graduates
ET 2020 includes a policy goal whereby EU Member States should aim to ensure that their employment rates for recent young graduates (aged 20-34 years) reach at least 82.0 % by 2020. This indicator provides information on the transition from education to work among people who have recently graduated from either upper secondary or tertiary levels of education (within the last one to three years).
From a relative low of 74.3 % — recorded in the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis — the EU-27’s employment rate for recent young graduates registered five consecutive annual increases during the period 2014-2018. In 2019, the rate was unchanged at 80.9 %; as such, it remained 1.1 percentage points below the ET 2020 benchmark target. Figure 2 shows the distribution of employment rates for recent young graduates: note that EU Member States that had relatively low national rates tended to record much greater regional variations. The employment rate for recent young graduates was at least 82.0 % in 128 out of 225 NUTS level 2 regions for which data are available (primarily for 2019). The ET 2020 benchmark was reached (or surpassed) in every single region of Czechia, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Slovenia, Finland and Sweden. The highest employment rate for recent young graduates was recorded in the German region of Trier (97.7 % in 2019). There were seven other regions where the rate was at least 95.0 %: four of these were in Germany (all located in Bayern) and three were from the Netherlands.
At the other end of the range, the employment rate for recent young graduates was less than 50.0 % in 2019 in the southern and island regions of Italy (except for Abruzzo), as well as in four Greek regions, the French régions ultrapériphériques (no data available for Mayotte; 2018 data for Martinique), and the Spanish region of Extremadura.
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. 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.
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 and 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.
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.
The ET 2020 framework supports EU Member States through policy cooperation and funding instruments: these include the Erasmus+ programme and European structural and investment funds. In 2015, there was a stocktaking exercise in relation to the implementation of the ET 2020, 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.
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. As of 2018, the European Commission has presented a range of initiatives, 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. 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.
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
Regions in Europe — statistics visualised is a digital publication that offers a range of interactive visualisations that allow you to get a deeper understanding of the situation across European regions.