Statistics Explained

Education and training statistics introduced


Latest update of text: October 2021.

Education, vocational training and more generally lifelong learning (LLL) play a vital role in both an economic and social context. The opportunities which the European Union (EU) offers its citizens for living, studying and working in other countries make a major contribution to cross-cultural understanding, personal development and the achievement of the EU’s full economic potential. Each year, well over a million EU citizens of all ages benefit from EU-funded educational, vocational and citizenship-building programmes.

The consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and of the Treaty establishing the European Community acknowledge the importance of these areas by stating that ‘the Community shall contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action ... The Community shall implement a vocational training policy which shall support and supplement the action of the Member States’. As such, the European Commission follows up on policy cooperation and work with the EU Member States, while funding various programmes.

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European Education Area

A Council Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond, was adopted by the Council in February 2021. It outlines the following five strategic priorities for the period 2021-2030:

  • 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; and
  • supporting the green and digital transitions in and through education and training.


For monitoring progress, seven EU-level targets, meaning reference levels of European average performance in education and training, have been defined:

  • at least 96 % of children between the age of three and the age for starting compulsory primary education should participate in early childhood education, by 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 eight-graders in computer and information literacy should be less than 15%, 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 tertiary educational attainment should be at least 45 %, by 2030;
  • the share of recent graduates from VET benefiting from exposure to work-based learning during their vocational education and training should be at least 60%, by 2025;
  • at least 47 % of adults aged 25-64 should have participated in learning during the last 12 months, by 2025.

Digital Education Action Plan

The Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) is a renewed European Union (EU) policy initiative to support the sustainable and effective adaptation of the education and training systems of EU Member States to the digital age.

The Digital Education Action Plan:

  • offers a long-term strategic vision for high-quality, inclusive and accessible European digital education;
  • addresses the challenges and opportunities of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the unprecedented use of technology for education and training purposes;
  • seeks stronger cooperation at the EU level on digital education and underscores the importance of working together across sectors to bring education into the digital age;
  • presents opportunities, including improved quality and quantity of teaching concerning digital technologies, support for the digitalisation of teaching methods and pedagogies and the provision of infrastructure required for inclusive and resilient remote learning.

To achieve these objectives, the Action Plan sets out two priority areas:

  1. Fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem

This includes:

  • infrastructure, connectivity and digital equipment;
  • effective digital capacity planning and development, including up-to-date organisational capabilities;
  • digitally competent and confident teachers and education and training staff;
  • high-quality learning content, user-friendly tools and secure platforms which respect e-privacy rules and ethical standards.
  1. Enhancing digital skills and competences for the digital transformation

This requires:

  • basic digital skills and competences from an early age;
  • digital literacy, including tackling disinformation;
  • computing education;
  • good knowledge and understanding of data-intensive technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI);
  • advanced digital skills, which produce more digital specialists;
  • ensuring that girls and young women are equally represented in digital studies and careers.

The previous digital plan (COM(2018) 22 final) included 11 initiatives to support technology-use and digital competence development in education, structured within three priorities:

  • making better use of digital technology for teaching and learning;
  • developing digital competences and skills;
  • improving education through better data analysis and foresight.

Renewed agenda for higher education

The European Commission activities on higher education have always been directed to guarantee an international dimension to studying, teaching, researching or making policy at the upper education levels. In May 2017, the European Commission adopted a Communication (COM(2017) 247 final) on a renewed EU agenda for higher education, focusing on four priority activities:

  • tackling future skills mismatches and promoting excellence in skills development;
  • building inclusive and connected higher education systems;
  • ensuring higher education institutions contribute to innovation;
  • supporting effective and efficient higher education systems.

The Communication also proposed to streamline EU support for higher education by:

  • creating a knowledge hub to enhance data quality, comparability, data collection and indicators and draw lessons from implementation of EU higher education data tools to date;
  • strengthening the work of the Eurydice network and cooperation with the OECD to avoid duplication of efforts and benefit from joint work;
  • simplifying student mobility by building on existing Erasmus+ projects for the electronic exchange of student data and explore the feasibility of establishing electronic student identification system;
  • initiating a discussion on efficient support to students, staff, institutions and higher education systems.

Bologna and Copenhagen processes

Two policy processes are worth mentioning within the context of tertiary education and vocational training: the Bologna process put in motion a series of reforms to make European higher education more compatible, comparable, competitive and attractive for students, while the Copenhagen process is aimed at promoting and developing vocational education and training.

The main objectives of the Bologna process are:

  • the introduction of a three-cycle degree system (bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees);
  • quality assurance; and
  • recognition of qualifications and periods of study.

Otherwise, the Bologna process seeks to remove the obstacles to student mobility across Europe, and more broadly support the mobility of students, teachers and researchers. It sets out plans to create a European higher education area (EHEA) and in March 2010 the ministers of the 47 participating countries adopted the Budapest-Vienna Declaration, officially launching the EHEA. Since then, Ministers meet every two or three years to reflect on the progress made. At their most recent meetingin November 2020 in Italy, due to the widespread of COVID-19 pandemic, participants committed to achieve, by 2030, the building of a new EHEA, able to underpin a sustainable, cohesive, and peaceful Europe and based on three characteristics:

  • inclusiveness: every learner should have equitable access to higher education and should be fully supported in completing their studies and training;
  • innovation: introducing new and better aligned learning, teaching and assessment methods and practices, closely linked to research;
  • interconnection: facilitating and enhancing international cooperation and reforms, exchange of knowledge and mobility of staff and students.

The Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) published a review of the implementation of the Bologna process in 2018, titled The European Higher Education Area in 2018: Bologna Process Implementation Report.

Since 2002, national authorities and social partners from European countries have taken part in the Copenhagen process which aims to promote and develop vocational education and training (VET) systems; at the time of writing 33 countries are active in this process. In June 2010, the European Commission presented its proposals for ‘a new impetus for European cooperation in vocational education and training to support the Europe 2020 strategy’ (COM(2010) 296 final). Further milestones were the Bruges communiqué in 2010 and the Riga conclusions in 2015. In November 2020, the Osnabrück Declaration was agreed by EU stakeholders at a ministerial meeting in the context of the German presidency of the European Union. The Declaration continues on the work specified in Riga conclusions of 2015, and introduces new policy actions for the period 2021 – 2025, supporting the EU’s Council recommendation on vocational education and training for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience.

With these in mind, a number of European initiatives have been developed over time to enhance the transparency, recognition and quality of competences and qualifications, while facilitating the mobility of learners and teachers/trainers. They include the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), Europass, the European Credit System for VET (ECVET) and the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for VET (EQAVET).

Erasmus+

The Erasmus programme was one of the most well-known European programmes and ran for just over a quarter of a century; in 2014 it was superseded by the EU’s programme for education, training, youth and sport, referred to as ‘Erasmus+’. The programme currently covers the period 2021-2027 and has an overall budget of EUR 26.2 billion. This is nearly double the funding compared to its predecessor programme (2014-2020).

It supports priorities and activities set out in the European Education Area, Digital Education Action Plan and the European Skills Agenda. The programme also:

Erasmus+ replaced (and integrated) several programmes:

  • the lifelong learning programmes — Comenius, Erasmus, Leonardo da Vinci and Grundtvig;
  • the Youth in Action programme designed for young people aged 13-30 years with the goal of giving them a sense of active European citizenship, solidarity and tolerance;
  • some international cooperation programmes — Erasmus Mundus, Tempus, Alfa, and programmes for cooperation with industrialised countries.

With respect to education and training, the programme supports three main types of actions:

  • learning opportunities and mobility for individuals, both within the EU and beyond, for example through study and training, traineeships, and teaching and professional development;
  • institutional cooperation — for innovation and the exchange of good practices — between educational institutions, youth organisations, businesses, local and regional authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs);
  • support for policy reform — designed to promote the active participation of young people in democratic life.

Erasmus+ offers mobility and cooperation opportunities in:

  • higher education;
  • vocational education and training;
  • school education (including early childhood education);
  • adult education;
  • youth;and
  • sport.

It was calculated that, in 2019, almost 1 million people studied, trained or volunteered abroad thanks to Erasmus+ (source: Erasmus+). The opportunities offered by Erasmus+ extend well beyond the higher education sector, as the programme encompassed a broad range of youth issues and sports across Europe, involving 111 thousands organisations and implementing around 25 thousands projects. Until 2027, 12 million people are expected to participate in the programme.

European Pillar of Social Rights

The European Pillar of Social Rights sets out 20 key Principles and rights essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and social protection systems. The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan turns the Principles into concrete actions to benefit citizens. It also proposes three headline targets for the EU to reach by 2030., of which one is in the domain of education and training: at least 60% of all adults should be participating in training every year by 2030. The outline of the European Pillar of Social Rights is divided into three main dimensions in the field of employment and social policies. Each of these headings contains a number of policy domains, to which different principles are attached. Most of the 20 principles are represented by at least 1 indicator:

  • Equal opportunities. This includes skills development, quality and inclusive education, training, life-long learning and active support for employment. All these elements are all indispensable to increase employment opportunities, facilitate transitions between different employment statuses and improve the employability of individuals.
  • Fair working conditions. These are needed to establish an adequate and reliable balance of rights and obligations between workers and employers. They make sure that there is evenness between flexibility and security to facilitate job creation, job take-up and the adaptability of firms, and promoting social dialogue.
  • Social protection and inclusion. This includes access to health, social protection benefits and high quality services, including childcare, healthcare and long-term care, which are essential to ensure a dignified living and protection against life's risks. This enables citizens to participate fully in society.


Education and training statistics

The measurement of progress towards the objectives described above requires a full set of comparable statistics on enrolment in education and training, numbers of graduates and teachers, language learning, student and researcher mobility, educational expenditure, as well as data on educational attainment and vocational learning. Education statistics cover a range of subjects, including: educational systems, attainment, finance, personnel, learning mobility, languages, the transition from education to work, as well as adult participation in (lifelong) learning.

The standards for international statistics on education are set by three international organisations:

The main source of data is a joint UNESCO/OECD/Eurostat (UOE) questionnaire on education systems and this is the basis for the core components of the Eurostat database on education statistics; Eurostat also collects data on regional enrolments, foreign language learning and learning mobility.

Data on educational attainment and adult learning are principally provided through household surveys, in particular the EU labour force survey (EU-LFS), which is complemented by an adult education survey (AES) and the continuing vocational training survey (CVTS).

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