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Major geographic disparities in provision of education and attainment

Mind the gap” is a cult announcement on the London Underground. But it is also the title of a new publication by the Network of Experts in Social Sciences of Education and Training (NESSE), produced for the European Commission. The report investigates regional disparities in the availability of education and in the results achieved. It covers the 27 EU member states and their regions.

The main conclusion of NESSE is this: “Despite commitments by EU Member States to promote equity in education and training, major geographic disparities persist in educational opportunities and outcomes, across but also within EU Member States and regions”. In a between-countries perspective, there appears to exist a north-south divide. The highest shares of low-qualified persons (lower secondary education or less) were found in the south of Europe, and especially in Spain and Portugal, while the lowest shares were reported from north-west Europe (United Kingdom [UK], Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden). The regions with the highest rates of tertiary attainment are predominantly located in the UK, the Netherlands and in northern Spain and Cyprus. Amongst the countries with regions with the lowest numbers of tertiary graduates are Italy, Portugal, Romania, and the Czech Republic.

But the picture differs also very much between regions of one and the same country. In eight countries, the ratio of tertiary education graduates among the population aged 15 or higher was over 15 percentage points higher in the best than in the lowest-scoring region, with the UK and France ‘in the lead’. Similar discrepancies exist between regions with a university almost ‘next door’ and such with tertiary institution over 60 minutes’ drive away.  With regard to students as a proportion of the 20-24 year-old population, the biggest regional disparities were found in Belgium, followed by the Czech Republic and Austria.