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General publications21 December 2023Joint Research Centre

EU on track to reach targets for higher education graduates and early leavers

By 2030, the EU is set on course to substantially surpass its target of at least 45% graduates among young adults and slash the share of early school leavers to below 9%.

Children running in a school corridor
@ Djomas,

A JRC empirical analysis finds that the EU-27 are on track to achieve two 2030 targets, envisaging that at least 45% of 25–34-year-olds obtain a higher education qualification, and less than 9% of pupils leave education and training early.

While the study finds no negative impact from Covid-19 in the short term, in the longer term, questions remain about the risk of social or educational inequality from both the pandemic and Russia’s invasion on Ukraine.

Participation and completion rates in upper secondary and tertiary education are two key features for monitoring educational systems, and they are closely linked to the transition of young people to the labour market.

According to the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training, adopted in February 2021, the EU aims to reduce the share of early leavers – 18-24 year-olds with no more than lower secondary education – and increase the share of higher education graduates among the 25-34 age group for the entire region.  

Based on the empirical analyses presented in the JRC report Forecasting progress towards the EU-level targets of the European Education Area that documents the future developments in educational achievement indicators, the EU-27 countries are on track to reduce the average early leavers rate below the 9% target, aligning with EU objectives. However, the forecast carries a significant level of uncertainty, with notable variations among EU countries.

While some countries, such as Greece, Ireland, Poland, and Sweden, have already met the 9% target in 2019, others, such as Spain, Italy, and Hungary, continue to report high levels of early leavers and face challenges in reaching the specified threshold by 2030.

In terms of attaining higher education qualification, the study suggests that the EU is likely to exceed the 45% target by a substantial margin in 2030. Nevertheless, despite this positive outlook, certain countries, including Italy, Hungary, Germany, and Czechia, may struggle to achieve the specified target value by the end of the decade. 

What impact from Covid-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? 

The report reveals that in the short term, the Covid-19 pandemic did not significantly disrupt tertiary education attainment and early school leaving. However, the long-term consequences are influenced by various factors, resulting in both negative and positive impacts on educational attainment.

While a clear trajectory for these long-term effects cannot be identified, they are likely to be unevenly distributed among demographic groups, raising concerns about the exacerbation of educational inequality within society. 

The migration crisis from Russian aggression brought a significant influx of Ukrainian students into EU education systems, particularly affecting states like Poland and the Czech Republic. Fleeing a war, these students may face particular challenges, and are at higher risk of dropping out of education.

The impact of Russian invasion intensifies when considering the energy crisis and a notable increase in inflation across all European countries. There is indeed evidence that increase of inflation may disproportionately affect disadvantaged families, exacerbating social inequalities, especially in certain European countries. 


Early leavers (ELET) and tertiary education attainment (TEA) forecasts are built under the hypothesis of “no policy change” – estimating the trends of these indicators in the case of no future changes in the countries’ policy actions. The empirical estimates are based on data up to 2019 from 18 EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden).

The authors advocate for a continuous monitoring of ELET and TEA indicators across students with different socioeconomic backgrounds to improve de overall quality of education and training systems in the EU, and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for individuals. 

Related links

Forecasting progress towards the EU-level targets of the European Education Area

European Education Area

European Education Area strategic framework


Publication date
21 December 2023
Joint Research Centre
JRC portfolios
Education, skills and jobs