EUROPE 2020 TARGET: TERTIARY EDUCATION ATTAINMENT

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1 EUROPE 2020 TARGET: TERTIARY EDUCATION ATTAINMENT Low tertiary or equivalent education attainment levels create skills bottlenecks in knowledgeintensive economic sectors and hamper productivity, innovation and competitiveness. Given the ever-increasing level of skills required by the labour market, the fast pace of technological progress and the intensity of global competition, low tertiary education attainment levels can limit smart, sustainable growth. 1. Key statistical indicators In the area of tertiary education, the Europe 2020 Strategy set the headline target that at least 40 % of year olds should have a tertiary or equivalent qualification by Figure 1 shows the position of Member States in relation to the EU headline target, national targets and the EU average. Figure 1. Tertiary attainment rate 2012, Europe 2020 target and national targets Source: Eurostat (Labour Force Survey). * The lighter blue parts for Austria and Germany denotes the postsecondary attainment qualifications (ISCED 4 for DE and ISCED 4/4a for AT, both national data); that these 2 countries have decided to include into the definition of their respective national targets. For LU : the rate reflects to a large degree the highly educated immigrant population living and working in the country, but not necessarily the outcome of the Luxembourgish education system. For FR: the 50% national target refers to the age group years old. For FI, the national target is defined more narrowly than the EU headline target and excludes technological institutes. 2. Assessment of main challenges in Member States The extent of the challenge In 2012, the share of the population aged having completed tertiary or equivalent education reached 35.7 %. Current attainment rates (as well as national targets and levels of ambition) vary considerably across countries, as do the challenges they face in meeting national targets. Among Member States with attainment rates of 40 % or above, many have set national targets based on their existing attainment level, while Ireland stands out in having set a considerably higher target (respectively 60 %). There are also variations among Member States with low levels of attainment, with Portugal and Slovakia setting much more ambitious targets (40 %) than countries such as Italy (26-27%), Romania (26.7%), Hungary (30.3%) and Greece (32%). Meeting national targets would not in itself guarantee that Europe as a whole meets the 40 % headline target. If national targets were met, this would lead to an attainment level of around 38% 1

2 in 2020). 1 However, current trends in tertiary education participation suggest that the headline target of 40 % is likely to be met. Figure 2. Tertiary education attainment: current performance and recent change 2 Tertiary attainment rate 2012 Minimum progress required Headline target Average annual change in tertiary attainment rate (%) over the period Source: DG EAC and JRC/CRELL calculations based on Eurostat data. Figure 2 illustrates the current performance (2012) and recent change ( ) of Member States as regards their tertiary education attainment rate. The dashed vertical line illustrates the minimum annual progress that would be necessary for the EU as a whole to reach to 40% target by 2020, if the rate of changes recorded in the past few years are confirmed (or improved), that is if the future years replicate the past ones. The EU average current performance is still 4.5 percentage points below target but - as long as the current pace of change is maintained - the target seems likely to be reached. On the basis of current performance and recent change, four groups of Member States can be distinguished: (1) Member States that are performing below the 40% headline target in terms of current tertiary attainment rates and on top of that have not made progress in recent years. This group only contains BG, with a current tertiary attainment rate of 26.9% and an average annual change between 2009 and 2012 of -1.21%. Its national target is 36%, which is unlikely to be reached. (2) Member States that are performing below the 40% headline target in terms of current tertiary attainment rates while nevertheless showing significant progress in recent years. Recent changes range from 2.1% (MT) to 13.5% (CZ) and current performance from 21.7% (IT) to 39.1% (PL). EE actually reached the headline target which is also its national target but fell below this tertiary attainment rate of 40% again in (3) Member States with attainment rates at or above the 40% level but which have lost momentum in recent years. This group includes countries like IE and FR, which have set highly ambitious national targets (IE, for instance, is the best-performing country in 2012 but is yet The UK has not set a formal national target, but the attainment rate in the UK is above 40 %. Member States having already achieved their national targets are marked in green. The average annual change rate is artificial for countries with a break in series, i.e. Malta (2010), the Netherlands (2010) and Latvia (2011). Due to the specificities of their vocational education and training (VET) system, which provides the labour market with a large share of highly qualified labour, Austria (ISCED level 4A) and Germany (ISCED levels 4A and 4B) also include attainment in their national target that is considered to be equivalent to that of tertiary education. 2

3 to reach its 60% target). Against this background, only about half of the countries in the group have reached their national targets. (4) Member States that have reached the headline target of 40% and have still been making significant further progress in recent years (LU, SE, CY, UK, LT). These countries have also reached their national targets (the UK does not have a national target). The nature of the challenge Low tertiary or equivalent education attainment levels, in particular in comparison with international levels (comparable data for the number of tertiary education graduates show that the US, Canada, Japan, Korea and Australia out-perform Europe), can hinder competitiveness and undermine Europe s potential to generate smart growth. While European labour market projections 4 indicate that around 35 % of all jobs will require tertiary graduate-level qualifications by 2020, only 26 % of the EU s labour force was qualified at this level in Because of the differences between national systems and starting points in terms of higher education attainment, the key challenges Member States have to address to meet the national targets in this area vary significantly. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify three main challenges which are common to many Member States and have a direct impact on the ability of higher education systems to provide the number of highly qualified graduates a modern knowledge-based economy needs: (1) Broadening access to higher education. Increasing overall higher education attainment levels generally involves broadening the intake to include students from all parts of society. This means attracting more students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds or geographical locations, from ethnic groups and from among people with a disability. While important from a social equity perspective, broadening access for under-represented groups is crucial for countries that are still making the transition from elite to mass higher education systems and for countries facing demographic decline. Although these issues are relevant to all Member States, increasing and widening participation is a particular challenge for Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Greece and Hungary. (2) Reducing drop-out rates and the time it takes to complete a degree. Lengthy study periods (Denmark) and a high proportion of students who fail to graduate undermine the efficiency of higher education systems. To increase the efficiency of public investment in higher education, Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland Romania, Sweden 5 and Slovenia need to make particular efforts to reduce high drop-out rates. (3) Improving the quality of higher education and making it more relevant. The quality of education on offer and the perceived added value of a higher education qualification for future employment will be key to the long-term attractiveness of higher education. Comparable data regarding the competence of graduates would be needed to objectively assess the quality and relevance of higher education. In the absence of such data, graduate employment rates are one criterion for assessing the relevance of higher education provision to the needs of the labour market, although these employment rates are also affected by short-term fluctuations in labour demand due to economic cycles. On the basis of 2012 data, collected for the EU employability benchmark 6, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal stand out as Member States where recent higher education graduates have greatest difficulties in finding work (in these Member States the employment rate among recent higher education graduates is below 70%). Apart from the difficult labour market situation this may be also symptomatic of a misalignment between the courses students follow and the knowledge and skills required by the labour market. The courses students choose, as well as the quality and relevance of the programmes provided, are contributing factors. 4 European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop), For Sweden, the figure on drop-out rates includes students entering single courses who may never have intended to study all the courses required for a degree (an estimated 40% in Sweden). 6 Employment rate of individuals aged 20 to 34 who graduated ISCED 5-6 no more than three years before the reference year. 3

4 3. Horizontal issues The Council conclusions on the modernisation of higher education of 28 November welcomed the 2011 Commission Communication on modernisation of higher education systems 8 and called upon Member States to take specific actions to increase attainment levels and improve the quality and relevance of higher education. The following types of measure are of particular relevance to raising attainment levels: (1) Key actions to broaden participation include removing financial barriers to participation an area where current policy trends vary and bringing more flexibility into the routes by which people enter higher education. It is important to ensure effective transition pathways from vocational education and training to higher education as a means to overcome barriers to broadening access to higher education. Improving the recognition of knowledge already acquired in non-formal contexts is an important measure for many Member States, particularly in order to encourage more adult learners to enter higher education. (2) Key actions to increase completion rates and the time it takes to complete a degree include improving guidance and counselling to help students choose an appropriate course (preentry guidance) especially in systems with comparatively open access to higher education and providing better support for students during their studies. In general, more studentcentred approaches to learning, with manageable staff-student ratios and intelligent use of ICT support, are needed. Designing student support instruments may also help students complete their studies. (3) Making sure that higher education courses develop skills profiles relevant to the world of work is an important aspect of ensuring the long-term attractiveness of higher education. Greater use of skills projections and graduate employment data (including tracking graduate employment outcomes), involving stakeholders more in course design and evaluation, more systematic use of work-based placements and more flexibility in the structure of study programmes, including interdisciplinary learning paths, can play an important role in improving the employability of graduates. All programmes should focus on developing crosscutting skills such as problem-solving, communication and team work, as well as subjectspecific knowledge. In countries with high levels of graduate unemployment, reviewing the balance of students entering different disciplines to identify areas of oversupply, and giving better guidance to prospective and current students, will also affect employment outcomes. 7 8 OJ C 372, , pp COM (2011) 567 final. 4

5 Annex: Additional statistical indicators A. Tertiary education attainment (total) EU28 : EU Austria : Belgium Bulgaria Croatia : Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Estonia Finland France Germany Greece Hungary Ireland Italy Latvia b 37.0 Lithuania Luxembourg b Malta 7.4 u 21.0 p 21.5 b Netherlands b p Poland p 36.9 p 39.1 p Portugal Romania Slovakia Slovenia Spain Sweden United Kingdom Source: Eurostat (LFS). Notes: b= break; u= unreliable; p= provisional. Further notes: Tertiary education includes both ISCED levels 5A and 5B and hence also vocational education and training at tertiary level. Austria and Germany include ISCED level 4 in their national target (Austria only ISCED 4a). Overall situation, general trends: Tertiary education attainment has progressed rapidly in the last 10 years, i.e. by nearly 12 percentage points. However, there are big differences between countries in performance and progress. Countries with special performance/trends: Recent progress in participation in tertiary education in some countries (e.g. Germany) will only appear with a delay of about 10 years in the benchmark indicator. Hence 2020 figures will not accurately reflect current progress (apart from older students beginning studies and graduating). Migration can also affect results, as in the case of Luxembourg, where the financial services sector and international organisations attract highly qualified people to the country. 5

6 B. Tertiary education attainment by sex. Males Females p.p. diff % diff EU EU % Austria % Belgium % Bulgaria % Croatia % Cyprus % Czech Republic % Denmark % Estonia % Finland % France % Germany % Greece % Hungary % Ireland % Italy % Latvia % Lithuania % Luxembourg 48.4 b b % Malta b b % Netherlands b b % Poland p 30.3 p p 43.5 p % Portugal % Romania % Slovakia % Slovenia % Spain % Sweden % United Kingdom % Source: Eurostat (LFS). Notes: b= break; u= unreliable; p= provisional; p.p.= percentage points. Overall situation, general trends: Females generally have higher tertiary education attainment rates than males. At 39.9 %, the female tertiary education attainment rate is already close to the 40 % target. However, the gender gap varies a lot between countries. There is no clear link between overall levels of attainment and gender imbalances. Countries with special performance/trends: Until 2000, Germany had a big attainment gap in favour of men. This gap has since narrowed considerably and in 2011 for the first time more women have graduated from tertiary education than men (31.6% to 29.9 %). Luxembourg is the only country in the EU where more men have graduated from tertiary education than women. 6

7 C. Tertiary education attainment by country of birth Total Foreign-born Native-born Total Foreign-born Native-born EU EU Austria Belgium Bulgaria 27.9 : : 26.8 Croatia u u 23.9 Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Estonia u u 39.2 Finland France Germany : : 33.2 Greece Hungary Ireland Italy Latvia 30.1 : u 37.3 Lithuania 40.6 : : 48.3 Luxembourg 46.6 b 54.4 b 36.5 b Malta i 21.0 p 20.7 u 21.0 b u 21.4 Netherlands p Poland 32.8 : p : 39.1 Portugal Romania 16.8 : : 21.8 Slovakia 17.6 : : 23.7 Slovenia u u 41.2 Spain Sweden United Kingdom Source: Eurostat (LFS). Notes: b= break; u= unreliable; p= provisional. Overall situation, general trends: In 2012, in most member states native-born have a higher tertiary education attainment. In average, 36.4% of those born in their country of residence reached tertiary attainment compared to 33.1% of those born in another country. The exceptions are the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom where the tertiary attainment rate is higher among those born outside the country. Countries with special performance/trends: However, the gap between foreign-born and native-born varies a lot between countries and is highest in Slovenia (28.6pp), Greece (23.6pp) and Spain (22.8pp). The lowest gap can be found in Croatia (1.7pp), the Czech Republic (-2.6pp), Estonia (2.6pp) and Austria (2.0pp). 7

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