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Tackling geographic inequality in education


Tackling geographic inequality in education

Report highlights major geographic disparities in education

Where you live in Europe can strongly influence your education and prospects in life, according to a new European Commission report. The report, entitled 'Mind the Gap - education inequality across EU regions', highlights significant disparities in education opportunities and results across - and within - Member States. There appears to be a North-South divide in educational attainment, with the highest rates of low-qualified people, with lower secondary education or less, chiefly found in southern European regions and especially in Portugal and Spain. In contrast, the regions with the lowest rates of low-qualified people are mostly found in the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden. Geographic inequalities in education persist despite commitments by Member States to promote equity in education and training. The report – the first of its kind – calls on EU countries to work harder to reduce these inequalities.

"All European citizens should benefit from high quality education and training - irrespective of where they live. It is time to deliver on the commitments which have been made. Tackling geographic inequality in education is a pre-requisite for balanced regional development and social cohesion. The European Structural Funds can and should be used to help address inequalities," said Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.

The report shows that the regions with the highest proportion of individuals with tertiary education qualifications (with a bachelor or master's degree or equivalent) are mostly found in the UK, the Netherlands, northern Spain and Cyprus. The regions with the lowest rates of tertiary education graduates are in Italy, Portugal, Romania and the Czech Republic. The report also highlights significant regional disparities in terms of adult participation in lifelong learning.

Next steps

In November the Commission will adopt its strategy on "Rethinking Skills" which will underline the need to address geographic disparities in education. In 2013, the Commission will present further evidence and policy advice to Member States on how to improve equity in education and training. A second report on the geography of educational inequality in the EU will be published in 2013.

Regional disparities within Member States

  • Students in tertiary education as a proportion of the population aged 20-24:Střední Čechy, 5.6%) and Austria (best: Vienna, 100%; worst: Voralberg, 7.3%). * Ratio can be higher than 100% in regions with several tertiary education institutions (usually capital regions) which attract a large student population and a large number of students older than 20-24. the widest regional disparities are in Belgium (best: Brussels Capital, 120.7%*; worst: Province of Luxembourg, 23.4%) followed by the Czech Republic (best: Prague, 100%; worst:

  • Geographical accessibility to tertiary education – the percentage of people living more than 60 minutes from the nearest university: Spain has the biggest gap between its best and worst performing regions (best: Madrid and País Vasco, 0%; worst: Ceuta, 99.7%). It is followed closely by Greece (best: Attiki, 1.2%; worst: Ditiki Makedonia, 100%), Finland (best: Etelä-Suomi, 1.2%; worst: Ĺland, 88.5%) and Bulgaria (best: Yugozapaden, 14.4%; worst: Severozapaden, 97.4%).

  • Ratio of tertiary education graduates among the population aged 15 or over: Tees Valley and Durham, 18.4%), followed by France (21.3 percentage points, best: Île de France, 33%; worst: Corsica, 11.7%), the Czech Republic (18.8 percentage points, best: Praha, 25.8%; worst: Severozápad, 7%), Spain (17.6 percentage points, best: País Vasco, 34.3%; worst: Extremadura, 16.7%), Slovakia (17.1 percentage points, best: Bratislavský kraj, 27.2%; worst: Východné Slovensko, 10.1%) and Romania (15.4 percentage points, best: Bucureşti–Ilfov, 22.5%; worst: Sud-Muntenia, 7.1%). In eight Member States, there is a difference of more than 15 percentage points between the top and worst performing regions. The UK has the biggest gap (23.4 percentage points, best: Inner London, 41.8%; worst:

  • Proportion of the population with low educational qualifications: France has the highest regional disparity (best: Alsace, 32.9%; worst: Corsica, 60.1%), followed by Greece (best: Attiki, 37%; worst: Ionia Nisia, 64.1%), Spain (best: Madrid, 44.2%; worst: Extremadura, 67.4%), Romania (best: Bucuresti-Ilfov, 21.9%; worst: Nord-Est, 42.8%) and Germany (best: Chemnitz, 11.9%; worst: Bremen, 30.6%).

  • Adult participation in lifelong learning: The UK has by far the biggest regional disparity (best: Inner London, with 16.1% of the population aged 25-64 in lifelong learning; worst: Northern Ireland, 5.7%).


The 'Mind the Gap - education inequality across EU regions' report was compiled for the European Commission by the network of experts in social sciences of education and training (NESSE). The team of authors is led by Dr Dimitris Ballas of Sheffield University, UK.

The report draws on Eurostat data and contains over 100 maps which visualise regional disparities. It identifies the top 10 and bottom 10 EU regions for each of the indicators it examines. Other key findings from the report are:

  • Regional disparities in learning hinder balanced regional development and economic growth;

  • Regional disparities in education compound inequality between EU regions. They also encourage brain-drain towards the more developed regions;

  • The nature, scale and effects of educational inequalities vary considerably across EU regions. Policy solutions must be tailored rather than generic;

  • Effective use of the European Structural Funds can help redress regional disparities in education and their effects;

  • More systematic collection of data at sub-regional level is necessary to improve the knowledge base and to inform policy-makers on this topic.