When a long-term strategy is launched, with ambitious goals far into the future, there tends to be much hype and expectation, but also a good measure of healthy skepticism. And so, when those goals appear suddenly within reach, it comes as a pleasant surprise.
Eurostat recently released figures that show the European Union is edging ever closer to two of its Europe 2020 targets in education. First, it was hoped that at least 40% of 30-34 year olds in the EU would have completed tertiary education by 2020. The current figure is 37.9%, a tremendous improvement from 23.6% in 2002, when the series started. The leap is even more significant for women than men: The 24.5% who had completed tertiary education in 2002 grew to 42.3% in 2014, while men went from 22.6% to 33.6%. It is also worth noting that as many as 12 Member States have met or exceeded their Horizon 2020 goals for this indicator: Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, Slovenia, Finland and Sweden. Of these, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Cyprus and Ireland have all surpassed the 50% threshold for this indicator.
Another piece of good news is that the share of early leavers from education and training has dropped significantly in the EU, from 17.0% in 2002 to 11.1% in 2014. The Europe 2020 target is to cut this number to below 10% by 2020—again, a goal that by now seems quite within reach. The lowest share of school leavers is found in Croatia (2.7%) and Slovenia (4.4%) while the highest proportion is found in Spain (21.9%) and Malta (20.4%).
Naturally, caution must be taken in attributing these successes to Europe 2020. Baseline figures are from 2002, so what we see today is at least partly the result of measures taken much earlier than 2010, when Europe 2020 was launched. Still, these figures are quite impressive and the current statistics will hopefully be of help in a steady move in the right direction, especially for those Member States with still much room for improvement.