However, there are still wide disparities between Member States and between males and females. The share of young people leaving school early now stands at 12.8% on average in the EU, down from 13.5% in 2011. In 2012, 35.8% of 30-34 year olds in the EU had completed tertiary education, compared with 34.6% in the previous year.
Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, said: "The progress in achieving our education targets is a positive message in a time of economic uncertainty. The jobs of the future will demand higher qualifications and these figures show that more young people are determined to achieve their full potential. We are also seeing that efforts to improve Europe's education systems and increase accessibility are paying off. I encourage all Member States to sustain their efforts so that we reach our 2020 targets; this is especially true for countries which have not made progress or whose performance was worse than in the previous year. I invite them to increase their efforts and follow the many examples of good practices."
12 Member States (Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden) now have early school leaving rates below the 10% Europe 2020 target, with Ireland reaching this level for the first time. Spain (24.9%), Malta (22.6%) and Portugal (20.8%) have the highest rates of early school leaving, but made progress compared to 2011. Germany, Greece, Ireland, Latvia and the UK reduced early school leaving by at least one percentage point, but the rate increased in Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.
In 2012, the share of 30-34 year olds with a higher education degree was above the Europe 2020 target of 40% in 12 Member States (Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK). Poland and Slovenia are set to exceed 40% next year. The proportion of young people with a higher education qualification remains low in Italy (21.7%), Slovakia (23.7%), Romania (21.8%), Malta (22.4%), the Czech Republic (25.6%) and Portugal (27.2%). Worryingly, the already low rate of tertiary attainment in Bulgaria (26.9%) fell slightly in 2012.
Overall, girls tend to do better: the rate of early school leavers among girls is 24% lower than for boys. The disparity is greatest in Cyprus (+58%), Latvia (+57%), Luxembourg (+57%) and Poland (+55%), where the school drop-out rate for boys is more than twice as high as for girls. Women are also 27% more likely to have completed higher education. The gender divide is biggest in Latvia (+85%), Estonia (+79%), Slovenia (+68%) and Bulgaria (+67%).
Read the full press release "Progress in tackling early school leaving and raising higher education attainment - but males are increasingly left behind".