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EU education benchmarks – good progress, but not enough

A new European Commission report, on Progress towards the common European objectives in education and training – Indicators and benchmarks 2010/2011, highlights that out of the five EU education benchmarks set for 2010 – on early school leavers, low achievement in reading, upper secondary completion, maths science and technology (MST) graduates, and on adult lifelong learning – only the MST benchmark has been attained. The number of MST graduates in Europe increased by 37% since 2000, i.e. well above the set target of 15%. In the other areas, despite steady progress, performance remains below expectations at the aggregate European level. Apart from the average figures, the report also provides individual country records, showing which countries score below or above the EU average, as well as which European states are frontrunners or lagging behind in a comparative perspective.

The findings of the report are equally informative for the newly-set education targets, within the Europe 2020 strategy. The two headline targets – of raising the share of the young adult population with tertiary level education attainment to 40% and of reducing early-school leaving to less than 10% – are achievable, assesses the report. Nevertheless, the authors underline that the ‘conservative’ targets, set at the national level in some EU member states, might undermine this European-level objective. The report further emphasises that increased investments into education are needed, if European states want to be successful in this strategy. As much as EUR 10 000 more per student would be necessary to catch up with the levels of the US spending on higher education.

As for the next steps, the Commission is expected to launch the two remaining benchmarks – on learning mobility and employability, while all the EU member states are expected to spell out the EU-level targets in their national reform programmes.

European Commission