Highly qualified population, 2010


Observations for policy

A highly qualified labour force contributes to regional competitiveness in a service and knowledge-based society and is the basis for future R&D activities. Innovation is at the centre of EU strategies for economic recovery, growth and sustainable development.

Education is a major concern in Europe. Education, research and development do not only serve the top class regions but it is, in combination with human capital, a key determinant of innovation capacity and regional growth. In that regard, education promotes convergence at regional level. As lagging regions develop stronger than the already well-performing regions, education, research and development contribute to cohesion in Europe.

The more advanced regions in Northwest Europe have the highest shares of population with tertiary education. Also some regions that have been hit hard by the economic and financial crisis have high shares of highly qualified population, for example in Spain. Those regions might be challenged by a ‘brain drain’, suffering from out-migration due to limited vacancies for the highly skilled.

Policy context

In policy and business there is a growing awareness regarding the importance of a highly qualified labour force. Governments in cooperation with universities and the private sector should match the demand and supply on the labour market contributing to a knowledge-based economy, which is often referred to as the ‘triple helix’. Such a cooperation is also envisaged in the Territorial Agenda 2020 where ensuring global competitiveness is one of the priorities.

A large share of highly qualified labour is one of the objectives of the EU, being reflected in the Europe 2020 Strategy, Territorial Agenda 2020 and EU Cohesion Policy. A minimum of 40% of the population aged 30-34 completing tertiary education is one of the headline targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy.

It should be noted that there are rather large differences between countries. Also the national targets set in relation to the Europe 2020 Strategy differ. Italy has a national target of 26% of the population aged 30-34 with tertiary education, while Ireland set a target of 60%. According the 6th Cohesion Report the EU wide share increased significantly between 2008 and 2012 from 31% to 36% suggesting that the Union-wide target should be achievable without difficulty.

A highly qualified population is also reflected in Cohesion Policy 2014-2020 and can be related to the thematic objectives: strengthening research, technological development and innovation; investing in education, skills and lifelong learning by developing education and training infrastructure.

Map interpretation

The map shows the share of a region’s work force with tertiary education. The work force is the active population between 25-64, also referred to as labour force. Tertiary education covers not only universities but also colleges, technical training institutes, nursing schools etc.

The share of highly qualified population is shown per region, ranging from a mere 8% in the Acores to 52% in London.

Within countries regional differences are relatively limited with capital city regions and other regions with large agglomerations showing a relatively higher share of population with tertiary education.

Differences between countries, on the other hand, are larger than intra-national ones. The levels on which education systems are organised become apparent. This is usually done on national level or, in federal countries like Germany, on the level of federal states. Countries in Europe with a relatively high share of population in the working age with tertiary education are the Nordic countries, the UK, Ireland, Switzerland and Spain.

Concepts and methods

Highly qualified population is visualised by using the share of population with tertiary education. The indicator is calculated as number of persons with tertiary education as part of the active population 25-64, the working age, as share of the total population 25-64.