Which countries are home to the most educated people in Europe?

The proportion of the population with a higher education degree is higher in Nordic and Baltic countries, with women overall being the most educated.


When it comes to competition for jobs and resources, education has always been a crucial factor in our sucess.

The adult population in Europe with tertiary education, which is the highest level, considerably varies across the continent, according to the available data.

On the average, almost one third aged 25-74 years in the European Union have a higher education degree, including public and private universities, colleges, technical training institutes, and vocational schools. Educational level also varies with age and gender.

So which countries have the highest rate of higher education in Europe, how do educational levels vary across Europe, and which countries pay more attention to vocational education? Euronews Next crunches the data.

How are educational levels defined?

Educational levels are defined as low (less than high school), middle (high school), or high (university studies).

European data agency Eurostat’s classification is based upon the International standard classification of education (ISCED), and refers to:

Low: pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education (ISCED levels 0–2);

Medium: upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (ISCED levels 3 and 4);

High: tertiary education (ISCED levels 5–8). It includes public and private universities, colleges, technical training institutes, and vocational schools.

In 2022, 31.8 per cent of people aged 25-74 years in the EU had a higher educational attainment, ranging from 17.4 per cent in Romania to 49.8 per cent in Ireland.

Nordic and Baltic countries have more graduates than EU average

Shares of higher education graduates were higher than the EU average in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Sweden and Norway ranked third and fourth with over 45 per cent of tertiary education graduates.

Of the Latvian population, 44 per cent had a higher education degree. Other Nordic and Baltic countries also had higher shares than the EU average in tertiary graduates.

In the UK, 43.5 per cent of the population aged 25-74 had a higher education, which was over the EU’s ‘Big Four’ countries. France (38.2 per cent) had the highest share among them, followed by Spain (38 per cent).

After Romania, Italy had the lowest share of tertiary graduates at 18.5 per cent. This figure was also slightly below the EU average in Germany (31.5 per cent).

Population with lower education was above 40 per cent in four EU countries

The share of the population with higher education was significantly lower in the EU candidate countries.

Turkey had the highest share of the population with low education by far where two-thirds (61.8 per cent) had less than upper secondary education attainment.

This figure was also below 40 per cent in four EU countries, namely Portugal, Italy, Malta and Spain.

Vocational orientation plays significant role in several countries

Looking at the details of medium educational attainment, consisting of general and vocational orientation, the share of vocational education is considerably high in several countries.


The share of people with vocational orientation at a medium education level was above 45 per cent in nine EU countries including Czechia (63.9), Poland (52.2), and Germany (47.4).

Younger people attain higher levels of education

The share of tertiary education graduates significantly increases among the younger population across Europe.

This also indicates how the countries have been doing in recent decades. Thus, the level of population aged 25–34 years is largely analysed by international institutions.

More than two-fifths of EU population has tertiary education

In 2022, 42 per cent of the EU population aged 25–34 had a higher education degree. It varied 24.7 per cent in Romania to 62.3 per cent in Ireland.

Contrary to the population aged 25-74, Nordic countries Finland and Iceland had a lower share of tertiary education than the EU average.


This figure was above 50 per cent in one-third of EU countries. Ten EU countries were also behind the EU’s 45 per cent target by 2030.

Women are more educated than men

In 35 European countries where data is available, women aged 25–34 had a higher proportion of tertiary education attainment than men.

In 2022, on the average, the proportion of women with tertiary education was 47.6 per cent whereas it was 36.5 per cent for men.

Except for Finland, the gender gap was significantly higher in Nordic and Baltic countries in favour of women. Iceland (25.4 percentage points, or pp), Slovenia (23.8 pp), and Slovakia (22.8 pp) recorded the highest difference.

Turkey (1.3 pp), Switzerland (3.6 pp), and Germany (4.6 pp) reported the smallest gap, showing the shares of women and men with a higher education degree are so close.


Proportion of population with higher education is growing

In the EU, the share of people aged 25-74 years with tertiary education has been constantly developing. It increased from 19.1 per cent in 2004 to 31.8 per cent in 2022.

Lifelong learning: Adults in education

Lifelong learning is also significant as people may need to update their skills. It is also called adult learning which is the participation in education and training for adults.

According to Eurostat, it includes all purposeful learning activities, whether it is formal, non-formal, or informal.

The aim is to improve knowledge, skills, and competences among the participants. Adult learning is an important aspect when it comes to the digitalisation and automation in the labour market.

In 2022, the share of people aged 25 to 64 years in the EU who had participated in education or training in the previous 4 weeks was 11.9 per cent, ranging from 1.7 per cent in Bulgaria and 36.2 per cent in Sweden.


While the proportion of adult learning was high in Nordic countries, the Balkan countries had significantly lower shares compared to the EU average.