24th Mar 2018


Education inequalities remain high in EU

  • "The EU is lagging behind in investing in education,” said EU education commissioner Tibor Navracsics. (Photo: Anna Tesar)

The EU is slowly approaching its goals on having more educated people but it comes at a price of maintaining inequalities between social categories and member states, the latest Education and Training Monitor shows.

Almost 38 percent of young Europeans now complete tertiary education, compared to 34.8 percent in 2011. And 11.1 percent leave school early, compared to 13.4 percent in 2011.

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But "youth unemployment, poverty and marginalisation remain high," the report also notes, and "one if four adults in Europe is caught in a low-skills trap.”

"The persisting determinants of underachievement are, inter alia, socio-economic status, immigrant background and gender," the report says.

"Structural and institutional characteristics also play their part, with access to quality education and ability grouping still penalising under-represented groups disproportionately."

Spending cuts

The annual report of the European Commission, published Thursday (12 November) depicts a Europe where education is one of the victims of the economic crisis and budget cuts, with possible consequences in the long term.

"Europe is not moving in the right direction fast enough. Educational poverty remains stubbornly embedded, with far too many disadvantaged students, and government investment - crucial to quality education - reveals worrying signs of spending cuts," it says.

"Sadly, one of the first steps in budget consolidation were cuts in education budgets," EU education commissioner Tibor Navracsics told a press conference the same day.

While average spending on education in the EU is "around 5.3 percent of the EU's GDP,” it is at 6 percent or more in other parts of the world, especially Asia.

"The EU is lagging behind in investing in education,” Navracsics said. "That could cause a problem because investment in today's education is also investment in tomorrow's competitiveness."

The commissioner also warned that the migration crisis presents a new challenge.

As the report already notes that "opportunities and outcomes are still very much determined by people's socio-economic and immigration background," EU countries will have to find ways to avoid a worsening of that situation.

"If we want to integrate those refugees, who will stay in member states, we have to use education as a powerful engine for social integration," Navracsics said.

"Education is not simply about educating employable people, it for socialising people to democratic values, to educate them as active citizens. Education is a future task in the handling of the migrants crisis."


The Education and Training Monitor is published each year since the EU launched the Europe 2020 programme for jobs and growth to assess member states' education and training systems.

The report aims at being an "EU Pisa", a commission source said, referring to the Programme for international student achievement, a yearly ranking of education systems published by the OECD.

Education targets in the Europe 2020 programme include a reduction of the number of early leavers from education and training to less than 10 percent, a 95 percent rate for early childhood education and care, a 40 percent rate for tertiary education attainment, an 82 percent employment rate of recent graduates and a reduction to 15 percent of the rate of underachievement in reading, mathematics and science.

In a field where the commission can only issue common targets and share good practices, and where member states remain sovereign in the policies, the 2025 report proposes leads to improve Europe's education systems.

For the EU executive, early schooling with parents' involvement, teachers' training and recognition, digital learning and "up-skilling and re-skilling" of the working age population are key to reach the 2020 targets.

The commission also stresses the importance of language skills and students' mobility through the Erasmus+ scheme.

"The 2014 Erasmus impact study shows that university graduates who participated in the Erasmus programme enjoy both better labour market and career developments prospects," the reports notes.

University rankings reveal two-speed Europe

British, German and Dutch institutions do very well in the latest university rankings, with Oxford named the world's best. But the French and much of the rest of the EU are lagging behind.

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