European benchmarks in education and training

The purpose of this communication is to facilitate the evaluation of education and training systems by identifying benchmarks.


Communication from the Commission of 20 November 2002 on European benchmarks in education and training: follow-up to the Lisbon European Council [COM(2002) 629 final - Not published in the Official Journal].



In this communication, the term "benchmark" is used to refer to concrete, measurable targets. These are grouped into six areas:

The communication gives a general overview of the results achieved so far in the various Member States and invites the Council to adopt the following European benchmarks:

The trend in the school drop-out rate (i.e. the number of young people aged between 18 and 24 who have only lower secondary education and are not in education or training) is showing some encouraging signs in most Member States, but there is still much to be done over the coming years if this paramount objective is to be achieved by 2010. The EU average in 2002 was 19%, whereas the three best performing EU countries (Sweden, Finland and Austria) show an average of 10.3%. In Portugal the rate is currently 45%, in Spain 29% and in Italy 26%.

Although the European Union produces relatively more graduates in mathematics, science and technology (about 550 000 a year), in comparison with the US (370 000) and Japan (240 000), far fewer go into research careers. Efforts should be made by all education systems to motivate girls in particular to opt for scientific/technological subjects in primary, secondary and higher education. In 2002 the three best performing countries here were Ireland, Portugal and Italy, with 1.6 times as many male as female graduates in mathematics, science and technology, whereas the ratio is 4.7:1 in the Netherlands and 4:1 in Austria.

In most Member States, this rate has shown a steady increase. In the 25-64 age range it has risen from around 50% of the population in the early 1990s, to some 66% in 2000. If this trend continues up to 2010, the average rate in the EU will in fact be around 80%. Currently, the three best performing EU countries (Germany, Denmark and Sweden) show an average of 83%, whereas Portugal has an average of 21%, Spain of 42% and Italy of 46%.

According to the recent PISA survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), current attainment levels in reading literacy (15-year-olds) are higher in the USA and Japan than in the EU. These results have prompted wide debate in several Member States because of astonishingly poor results (e.g. in Germany and Luxembourg) or the exceptional performance of Finland, for example. Much therefore clearly remains to be done to improve performance and raise the quality of education and training in Europe overall to the levels of the best in the world (Japan, Finland). Special efforts should be made to at least halve the number of low performers by 2010.

Increasing participation in lifelong learning is probably one of the most important challenges facing us all in the field of education and training. The EU average in 2002 was 8.4% (meaning that in any one month, 8.4% people will have participated in education and training activities), as against 19.6% for the 3 best performing Member States (the United Kingdom, Finland and Denmark).

The communication further invites Member States to establish national benchmarks to contribute to achieving the Lisbon objective of "substantial annual increases in per capita investment in human resources".


In the detailed joint work programme on the objectives for education and training systems (Education and Training 2010), the Commission proposes adopting European benchmarks applicable to education and training systems in areas which are central to the achievement of the strategic goal set by the Lisbon European Council of making Europe "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world" by 2010.

However, the benchmarks remain indicative and, in accordance with the subsidiarity principle, it is primarily up to the Member States to take action to follow up the conclusions of the Lisbon summit. The Member States therefore have full responsibility for the content and organisation of their education systems.

The communication hopes that the benchmarks proposed will be taken into account in the interim report on the implementation of the detailed work programme on the objectives of education and training systems in Europe, to be submitted by the Commission and the Council to the Spring European Summit in 2004.


Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on key competences for lifelong learning [Official Journal L 394 of 30.12.06].

Council Conclusions of 5 May 2003 on reference levels of European average performance in education and training (Benchmarks) [Official Journal C 134, of 07.06.2003].

The Council, while taking over the European benchmarks in education and training as set out in the Commission Communication of 20 November 2002, fixes the corresponding objectives to be met by 2010, namely to:

The Council also stresses that the report to be submitted to the Spring European Summit in 2004 should propose a first list of indicators and reference levels of European average performance to be applied for monitoring the progress achieved in the field of education and training towards the Lisbon goals.

Barcelona European Council, 15-16 March 2002, Presidency conclusions [Doc. 02/8 of 16 March 2002 - Not published in the Official Journal].

The European Council welcomes the agreement on the detailed Work Programme for 2010 for education and training systems. The European Council sets the objective of making these educative and training systems a world quality reference by 2010. It invites the Council and the Commission to report to the Spring European Council in 2004.

Last updated: 15.02.2007