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'Mid-table' UK must invest for success

8 February 2012 | last updated: 11 December 2015

UK behind 18 European countries in table of educational achievement • UCU fears UK may fall further behind European rivals as access to education made harder

Fewer people in Britain are well-educated than in countries such as Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Poland. UCU said today that the government must reverse plans to cut places at universities and colleges if the UK is to avoid slipping behind the rest of Europe.

The UK is only mid-table in a European league of the percentage of people who have at least an upper secondary education (equivalent to A-levels). Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary and Bulgaria are also among the 18 countries who boast a better-qualified populace than the UK.

UCU said that unless the government opened up opportunities for people and made education a policy priority, the UK would get left behind on the world stage.

The government unveiled plans last month to axe the number of university places by 15,000 and has increased the cost of studying a degree to as much as £9,000 a year. Worryingly, it was revealed last week that 43,881 fewer people in the UK applied for a place at university than last year.

In further education the news is similarly bleak. People over the age of 24 wishing to study a level 3 qualification and above will now have to pay fees of up to £4,000 a year. However, these charges come against a backdrop of decreasing numbers of people studying. The total number of learners participating in government-funded further education fell by 8.0 per cent to 4,264,900 in 2010/11.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'The UK should be at the top of the table when it comes to education. We pride ourselves on being world leaders in many areas and must not settle for mid-table obscurity. Even more worrying is the very real possibility that we will slide further down the table as people find it harder to access education following price hikes and restrictions on places.'

Percentage of the total population (aged 25-64) having completed at least upper secondary education 2010

1

Lithuania

92

2

Czech Republic

91.9

3

Slovakia

91

4

Estonia

89.2

5

Poland

88.7

6

Latvia

88.5

7

Germany

85.8

7

Switzerland

85.8

9

Slovenia

83.3

10

Finland

83

11

Austria

82.5

12

Sweden

81.6

13

Hungary

81.3

14

Norway

80.9

15

Bulgaria

79.4

16

Luxembourg

77.7

17

Croatia

76.7

18

Denmark

76.5

19

United Kingdom

76.1

20

Romania

74.3

21

Cyprus

74.1

22

Ireland

73.5

23

Netherlands

72.3

24

France

70.8

25

Belgium

70.5

26

Iceland

66.5

27

Greece

62.5

27

Macedonia

62.5

29

Italy

55.2

30

Spain

52.6

31

Portugal

31.9

32

Malta

29

33

Turkey

28.4

EU average

72.7

Source: epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu

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