In the EU, 8.5% of all 30-34 year-olds have a practically-oriented tertiary qualification, equivalent to a quarter of those with tertiary education attainment in that age group.

VET should contribute to the achievement of Europe 2020 headline targets set for education. One of them is to increase the average EU share of 30-34 year-olds with tertiary education qualifications (or equivalent) to at least 40% (ET 2020 and Bruges communiqué).

The indicator considered here is the number of 30-34 year-olds with a tertiary educational attainment (as percentage of the population in that age group). It includes more theory-based/research-oriented tertiary education (ISCED 5A and 6) and more practically-oriented/occupationally-specific tertiary education (ISCED 5B). The latter may be considered VET’s contribution – though underestimated – to achieving the EU 2020 target at tertiary level.

Source: Cedefop calculations, based on Eurostat, Labour Force Survey, date of extraction 31.5.2012.

Key points

  • In the EU, 34.6% of 30-34 year-olds had a tertiary educational attainment in 2011. To achieve the EU 2020 target, a gap of 5.4 percentage points has to be narrowed.
  • In the EU, theoretically-oriented tertiary qualifications (ISCED 5A and 6) are more common. In 2011, such qualifications were held by 26.1% of all 30-34 year-olds (or by 75.4% of those with a tertiary educational attainment in that age group).
  • Practically-oriented or occupationally-specific tertiary qualifications (ISCED 5B) also play an important role: in 2011, they were held by 8.5% of all aged 30 to 34 in the EU. This corresponds to 24.6% of those with a tertiary educational attainment in that age group.
  • Most countries with relatively low tertiary attainment levels (held by 28% or less of young adults) also have a low incidence of practically-oriented tertiary qualifications. It is less than 3% for Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia; Austria is an exception.
  • Most countries with high tertiary attainment levels (held by 38% or more of young adults) also have a high incidence of practically-oriented tertiary qualifications. It is more than 12% for Belgium, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, France, Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Slovenia and the UK.

The distinction in educational attainment used here is based on ISCED 97, according to which tertiary education can be distinguished as follows:
(a) ISCED 5A: completion of programmes that are largely theory-based and are intended to provide sufficient qualifications for gaining entry into advanced research programmes and professions with high skill requirements;
(b) ISCED 5B: completion of programmes that are practically-oriented/occupationally-specific and are mainly designed for participants to acquire the practical skills and know-how needed for employment in a particular occupation or trade, or class of occupations or trades, the successful completion of which usually provides participants with a labour market-relevant qualification;
(c) ISCED 6: completion of second stage of tertiary education (leading to advanced research qualification).

In interpreting the data, it is necessary to take into account the possible differences in the structure of national VET systems. More information on each country’s VET system can be found in Cedefop’s VET in Europe database. Different allocation of practice-oriented tertiary programmes (ISCED 5A vs ISCED 5B) across countries or over time may influence the results.

Results for Poland and Malta are not presented due to lack of reliability of the proposed breakdown. Data for Sweden are provisional.
Along with a target for the EU average share, countries have established their own national targets. The target for Finland is based on a narrow national definition. No target has been established by UK in its NRP.