Higher Education Students and Graduates in Europe

Promoting equity in education and training is consistent with the European welfare state model, with part of the Europe 2020 Strategy aiming to significantly reduce numbers of early leavers from education and increase numbers of graduates with a university degree. The following maps give an insight into the social and spatial disparities in higher education across Europe’s countries and regions. They are all gridded population cartograms where each area is proportional to the number of people living there.
This is a map of students as a percentage of the total population aged 20–24. The reported share can often be higher than 100%, where there are more students who study and live in a city in term time than the numbers of 20- to 24-year-olds that the city officially houses. Also many students are counted who are aged 18, 19 or over 24:

Higher Education in Europe: Map of Students
(click for larger version)

The areas with the highest proportions of students tend to be those comprising Europe’s large cities and city regions. London is an exception, as it no longer has as many undergraduate students studying there as other large European cities.
The highest rates were mostly found in regions of Romania, Poland, Greece and the Scandinavian countries, but the Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Austria, Belgium, Spain and Portugal also scored highly.
The areas with the lowest rates were mostly found in Turkey and Italy, but also in Austria. Often areas with very high rates are surrounded by areas with very low rates from which young people move to study at university.

One of the key policy targets of the EU (as part of its Europe 2020 Strategy) is that by 2020 at least 40% of all 30- to 34-year-olds will have completed a qualification at tertiary or equivalent level. The following map shows the estimated numbers having achieved this level (mostly with a university degree or equivalent) in 2014 are shown here as a percentage of the total population aged 30–34:

Higher Education in Europe: Map of Graduates
(click for larger version)

At EU level the estimated rate was 37.9%, not far off the 2020 target. Overall, the highest rates were mostly found in the UK (Inner London had by far the highest rate), the Scandinavian countries, France and Spain. The migration of graduates to the UK in recent years and especially to London made this possible.
Those regions with very high rates now include Cyprus and Lithuania, as well as the Slovak capital city region of Bratislava and the Polish capital city region of Warsaw (Mazovia). Rates are very low where little tertiary education is offered, and in other places, particularly Southern and Eastern European regions, where large numbers of young adults who receive a higher education then decide to move away (the ‘brain drain’).

The third map shows how the percentage of 30- to 34-year-olds with a university degree or equivalent changed between the years 2008 and 2014. The progress made by European regions towards the EU’s policy target becomes visible:

Higher Education in Europe: Map of Changes in Graduates
(click for larger version)

The regions with the highest increases are mostly found in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovak Republic, Greece, Turkey and the UK. Within the UK these areas now include Greater Manchester (+14.2%), Cheshire (+14.6%), Gloucestershire (+13.1%) and Cumbria (+12.9%).
On the other hand, there was a decline in 41 regions, mostly found in Spain, France and Germany (and in particular, the regions in the East of Germany). However, four of the regions with a declining share of this age group having these qualifications were in the UK: North Yorkshire (–5.8%), Devon (–3.1%), Northumberland and Tyne and Wear
(–2.4%) and East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire (–1.2%).

These maps were used in a talk I recently gave at German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in collaboration with Global Young Academy in Halle (Saale) discussing inequalities in higher education:

The maps and explanations are taken from the Human Atlas of Europe that I published together with Dimitris Ballas and Danny Dorling:

  • Ballas, D., Dorling, D. and Hennig, B.D. (2017) The human atlas of Europe. Bristol (Policy Press).
    Order book (Policy Press)

The content on this page has been created by Benjamin Hennig using education statistics by Eurostat. Please contact me for further details and the terms of use.

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