1. Key indicators
Figure 1 – Key indicators overview
|Education and training 2020 benchmarks|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||14.2%||4.1%||14.0%||10.2%|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 30-34)||26.6%||43.1%||31.1%||40.3%|
|Early childhood education
(from age 4 to starting age of compulsory primary education)
|Proportion of 15 year-olds underachieving in:||Reading||21.3%||30.5%18||19.3%||22.5%18|
|Employment rate of recent graduates by educational attainment (age 20-34 having left education 1-3 years before reference year)||ISCED 3-8 (total)||65.2%||89.4%||78.0%||80.9%|
|Adult participation in learning (age 25-64)||ISCED 0-8 (total)||3.5%||3.9%||7.9%||10.8%b|
|Learning mobility||Degree mobile graduates (ISCED 5-8)||:||12.2%18||:||4.3%18|
|Credit mobile graduates (ISCED 5-8)||:||:18||:||9.1%18|
|Other contextual indicators|
|Education investment||Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP||4.1%||3.9% 18||5.1%||4.6%18|
|Expenditure on public and private institutions per student in € PPS||ISCED 1-2||€4 20412||€4 46517||€6 072d, 12||€6 240d, 16|
|ISCED 3-4||:12||:16||:12||€7 757d, 16|
|ISCED 5-8||€2 64012||€2 29416||€9 679d, 12||€9 977d, 16|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||Native-born||9.6%||2.9%||12.6%||8.9%|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 30-34)||Native-born||29.7%||47.0%||32.0%||41.3%|
|Employment rate of recent graduates by educational attainment (age 20-34 having left education 1-3 years before reference year)||ISCED 3-4||60.8%||51.0%||72.2%||75.9%|
Sources: Eurostat; OECD (PISA); Learning mobility figures are calculated by DG EAC, based on UOE 2018 data. Further information can be found in Annex I and in Volume 1 (ec.europa.eu/education/monitor). Notes: The 2018 EU average on PISA reading performance does not include ES; b = break in time series; d = definition differs; u = low reliability; : = not available; 12 = 2012, 16 = 2016, 17 = 2017, 18 = 2018.
Figure 2 - Position in relation to strongest and weakest performers
Source: DG EAC, based on data from Eurostat (LFS 2019, UOE 2018) and OECD (PISA 2018).
- Digital education has become a policy focus in Greece. During the COVID-19 lockdown the country took decisive steps to move learning online, but also faced challenges with access and implementation.
- Reading, maths and science performance has declined and socio-economic background considerably affects achievement levels.
- Higher education has started to be modernised, with reforms to funding, quality assurance and internationalisation.
- Raising the attractiveness of and participation in vocational education and training and adult learning remains a key challenge.
3. A focus on digital education
Greece has made considerable efforts to upgrade its digital infrastructure but still lags behind other EU countries. Equipping schools with information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure has been largely funded through European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). ‘Traditional’ equipment like desktops are most common, often concentrated in ICT labs. This is due to factors such as ICT being a separate subject at primary and secondary level, and university ICT equipment being handed down to schools. The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 showed that only one third of students attend schools with sufficient digital devices (Reimers and Schleicher, 2020). ICT technical support does not necessarily respond to schools’ specific needs as it is external and scarce. Only 14% of pupils attend schools with sufficient qualified technical assistant staff – the smallest proportion in the EU (ibid.).
The switch to remote teaching during COVID-19 highlighted the risk of exclusion for disadvantaged students. In 2018, one fifth of students did not have access to a computer for school work (Reimers and Schleicher, 2020). According to survey data, during the pandemic Greek households had the most difficulties in the EU to make ends meet (Eurofound, 2020), putting vulnerable groups, including children, even more at risk of exclusion. Emergency legislation passed in April 2020 enabled municipalities to use money saved on operational costs during school closures to procure ICT equipment for students in need. For higher education institutions (HEIs) procedures were simplified until mid-June 2020 to buy servers, software licenses and equipment. Private donors provided over 20 000 tablets and laptops. After lending them to students (mostly from disadvantaged groups) and teachers for distance learning purposes, all devices will become part of schools’ ICT equipment. Access to the digital education platforms of Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs was available to all students free of (internet) charge during the lockdown.
Digital learning during closures of education institutions presented challenges and opportunities.The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs issued detailed instructions for asynchronous teaching (content on platforms, emails) and synchronous (real-time) teaching. Schools were granted more autonomy since they could choose the distance learning curriculum. However, teachers applied distance learning unevenly, which created imbalances between and within schools. The Ministry collected comprehensive data on the number of sessions, participation level and even the number of minutes spent on distance learning. To draw lessons, qualitative aspects deducted from surveys could provide further insights, such as: (i) participation per education level; (ii) students’ socio-economic background; (iii) challenges encountered; and (iv) reasons for not participating in distance learning. Universities were offered extra technological platforms to complement existing infrastructure. At the end of the semester, 96% of the courses had been offered online.
Comparatively few students report above average digital skills despite significant commitment to digital education. A considerable amount of digital educational content has been developed in recent years. Greece has among the highest number of recommended hours annually (150) for ICT as a compulsory separate subject in primary education, and digital learning outcomes are specified in detail for all education levels (European Commission, 2019b). A lack of monitoring at system level, however, makes the impact of in-school digital education outcomes difficult to ascertain. Only 5% of individuals aged 16-19 reported to have low digital skills in 2019 (EU-27: 15%)1. However, at 32%, the share of those with above basic overall digital skills was well below the EU-27 average of 57%. Legislation passed in June 2020 provides for further familiarisation with digital content in kindergarten on a pilot basis and reinforces digital education at secondary level.
Teachers are key enablers of ICT in education. Well-prepared, effective teachers are essential for digital education (Brown et al., 2019; Comi, 2016). European Social Fund (ESF)-supported training has provided a large proportion of Greek teachers with fundamental digital knowledge (see Box 1). The fast changing ICT technology requires that training be regularly renewed. It should also be adapted to the needs of individual schools and teachers, given the higher effectiveness of school-based and individualised teacher training (OECD, 2019e). Besides training, framework conditions, including sufficient time in the curriculum and available support for teachers, can help integrate ICT in education and advance students’ digital skills and overall educational performance (Comi, 2016). In Greece, the content-centred curriculum and teaching practices leave so far little room for teachers to meaningfully integrate ICT in education (Papadakis et al., 2012), while weak ICT support in schools may keep digitally trained teachers from applying their skills.
Box 1: EU support for teacher training on digital technologies
In the 2014-2020 ESF programming period, Greece carried out the programme ‘In-service training of teachers in the utilisation and application of digital technologies in teaching practice’. The regularly updated training content covers primary and secondary education teachers of all subjects. Two levels - introductory and advanced - provide comprehensive training on ICT in the classroom. An exam at the end of each level leads to a certification.
The programme started in 2016 and will run until the end of 2020. So far, 2 870 classes have been provided for almost 36 000 teachers and around 300 trainers.
Budget: EUR 13.4 million (ESF contribution EUR 10.4 million)
Under the European Commission’s structural reform support programme Greece also implements a project to improve digital education. The project examines schools’ digital readiness and will give recommendations for good use of ICT in schools. It will develop two massive open online courses (MOOCs) for teachers on the pedagogical use of ICT in the classroom.
4. Investing in education and training
Education remains underfunded, in particular at tertiary level. In 2018, Greece dedicated 3.9% of its GDP to education, one of the lowest shares in the EU (EU-27 average: 4.6%). The education budget reached EUR 8 051.8 million - a 2.9% increase compared to the previous year (in real value) but below the spending level of 2015. Only 8.3% of total government expenditure went to education in 2018 (EU-27: 9.9%). Compared with 2017, spending on tertiary education increased by 10.9%, albeit from a low level. In 2017, public spending per tertiary student was very low at EUR 1 790.4 (in PPS)2, even when taking into account Greece’s high rate of ‘eternal’, i.e. only nominal students3.
5. Modernising early childhood and school education
Participation in early childhood education is low but has improved for the youngest. 75.2% of children aged 4-6 attended early childhood education (ECE) in 2018, below the EU-27 average (94.8%) and far from the ET2020 benchmark of 95%. The low rate might be partly explained by incomplete data.4 For children under 3, participation increased to 40.9% in 2018 (EU-27: 34.7%), up from 20.5% in 2017. The increase is mainly due to many more children (+19.8 pps) attending childcare facilities for 1-29 hours, whereas participation for 30 hours and above rose only slightly (+0.6pps). The roll-out of compulsory education to 4 year-olds until 2022 is expected to increase the ECE participation rate.
Unmet needs for early childhood education and care (ECEC) are significant. Persisting challenges in data collection and the absence of a collective register for municipal facilities (Nikolaidis, 2019) complicate demand/supply estimates. Nevertheless, the regional participation distribution indicates a shortage of places: participation is much higher on islands (up to 86%) and in remote areas than in the most populous and economically more prosperous region of Attica (67.1%)5. Inadequate infrastructure, including old and inappropriate buildings, remains a major obstacle. Private ECEC provision is inaccessible to many Greek parents, instead they resort to informal care. 36.9% did so in 20186 – the highest share in the EU. Affordability is a key barrier for 13.7% of parents of children aged under 3, resulting in unmet childcare needs (Chzhen et al., 2019). Access to high-quality ECEC is not only important for individual educational outcomes but has broader societal and economic benefits (EENEE, 2018).
Underachievement in basic skills remains high. PISA 2018 showed a broadly stable (though comparatively low) performance of 15 year-olds in Greece in reading, maths and sciences compared to 2015. Performance in maths and reading has gradually declined since 2009, and in science since 2000. In each subject, one third of students are underachievers – among the highest shares in the EU. Whereas the shares of low achievers have increased over time, those of top achievers have declined. The persistently low results demonstrate the limited success of education measures over the past 10-15 years. New legislation emphasises skills development, including critical thinking. However, contrary to most EU countries (European Commission, 2019c), national testing has not yet emerged as a policy instrument apart from national university entrance exams. In the absence of national student performance data, PISA can provide valuable insights for necessary reforms to improve student outcomes.
Figure 3 - Trends in performance, PISA mean score 2000-2018
Source: OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Database.
Despite the largely centralised and uniform education provision, PISA reveals considerable disparities across the Greek education system. Girls outperform boys in all three areas. In reading - the PISA 2018 focus area, the gap translates to 42 score points or more than 1 year of schooling. There is an even higher gap - of 116 points, corresponding to around 3 years of schooling - in reading performances of students in vocational7 and general programmes. Rural schools lag behind urban schools by 63 points, equivalent to 1-2 years of schooling. The performance gap between schools with a high concentration of students with a migrant background and those without is larger than in most EU countries.
Students’ socio-economic background plays a significant role in their performance. Among students from the lowest socio-economic quartile, 46.4% are underachievers in reading compared to 15.2% from the highest quartile – a gap above the EU-27 average (26.9 pps). Among students with a migrant background, 48.3% are low achievers compared to 27.4% among those without a migrant background. However, the likelihood of children from a migrant background becoming low achievers is much lower after accounting for gender and socio-economic profile, which implies that remedial measures should take this into account.
Students’ well-being influences their performance. In Greece, a much lower share of pupils (19.3%) than in most EU countries feel they do not belong to school. There is, however, a higher prevalence of bullying. One in 3 boys reports being bullied at least a few times a month compared to 1 in 5 girls. More low achievers (39.3%) than high achievers (19.9%) are frequently bullied. The percentage of students skipping whole days or classes at schools is comparatively high. These findings underline the need for a policy focus on students’ well-being. New legislation introduced the role of teacher mediator, who is trained to manage violent situations. Schools can also draw up specific internal rules and introduce disciplinary measures including temporary school suspension.
Changes to teacher recruitment were introduced but bottlenecks persist. Greece struggles every year to fill vacant teacher posts until long after school has started. The hiring delays suggest structural inefficiencies and have negative impacts on education provision. Until March 2020, more than 25 000 substitute teachers had been hired, adding to the over 20 000 already in the system. Overall, almost half of teachers are aged over 50 and set to retire within the next decade. The necessary renewal of the teaching workforce is also an opportunity to modernise the teaching profession including by establishing frameworks on career development and competences (European Commission, 2020c). Graduates of private higher education institutions can now apply for teacher posts, which have the status of public official in Greece. This decision was strongly criticised by stakeholders who consider it a drawback for the teaching profession, since access to private colleges is not based on national exams.
New school legislation emphasises skills development and strengthens quality assurance. Legislation passed in June provides for curricula and textbook revisions across all levels (including ECE) aiming at skills development structured around four thematic pillars: environment, well-being, creativity and citizenship education. Digital education and language learning (English) is introduced in pre-primary education on a pilot basis and reinforced throughout. The new law also proposes a coherent framework for internal and external school assessment. In 2017, legislation on school self-evaluation was voted, but implementation has so far been patchy. The government’s aim is to modernise the Greek education system and prepare students for a complex, rapidly changing reality. At the same time, the amount and pace of reforms in recent years has led to resistance among teachers, who have to juggle partially contradictory expectations for high academic achievement, innovative pedagogy and flexibility (Kotrouba, 2017). Active stakeholder engagement and a common vision for education are therefore crucial to successful reforms (OECD, 2018).
Early school leaving is among the lowest in the EU. In 2019, only 4.1% of 18-24 year-olds had obtained only lower secondary education or less and were not in education or training (EU-27: 10.2%). Greece has steadily reduced early school leaving (ESL) from its overall level of 14.2% in 2009, particularly in rural areas, where the drop was as high as -11.4 pps from 18.7% in 2009. Among foreign-born students, 25.0% had left education or training early in 2019 – an increase of 5.1 pps compared with 2018 and one of the biggest gaps compared to native-born (2.0%) in the EU.
Inclusive education is to be strengthened. The Ministry of Education is cooperating with the European Commission and the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education to implement recently adopted legislation aiming to empower schools to respond to the diversity of all learners. Work is under way to develop a framework and practical guidelines for schools by drawing on European good practices.
Greece has made substantial efforts to integrate recently arrived migrants into education, but many remain outside the system. In the school year 13 028 recently arrived migrant children were enrolled in education (including ECE). However, of the 10 600 school-aged children (4-17) on the Aegean islands, only about 400 were in school from February 2020. These children attended 16 newly created afternoon refugee education centres (there are 104 centres across Greece catering for about one third of children in education). The rest attend mainstream schools, both with and without reception classes. There are concerns about segregation due to these separate structures, but also about segregation inside schools (Simopoulos, 2019). Policies to integrate refugee students into VET or tertiary education need to be reinforced. The lockdown often interrupted schooling because of a lack of electronic devices and internet access, dire living conditions with whole families sharing one mobile, and/or insufficient language skills to benefit from the Greek learning platform. Practically all 3 863 teachers of recently arrived migrant children are substitute teachers. Despite their personal motivation, it is a concern that many do not have relevant experience or training in refugee education or teaching Greek as a second language (Mogli, 2020). In response, a three-year programme for capacity building has been initiated. TALIS 2018 identified teaching in a multicultural or multilingual setting as a major training need of teachers in EU countries (OECD, 2019d).8
6. Modernising vocational education and training
To increase the attractiveness of VET, links to the labour market need to be strengthened. The employment rate for VET graduates remained stable at around 50.9% but is still far below the EU average of 79.1%. High-quality training programmes will be key for a robust post-crisis recovery. The continuous development of the optional fourth apprenticeship year for upper secondary VET graduates with a strong work-based component is expected to strengthen the link between education and the labour market. Four thousand secondary VET teachers have been trained on apprenticeship issues and certification of career guidance counsellors is under way. VET graduates’ skills certification will facilitate their integration into the labour market. Thorough monitoring of all VET initiatives and projects will strengthen the sector.
The lack of digital skills impacts employment prospects. The OECD’s survey of adult skills (PIACC) reveals that 20.2% of adults surveyed had no prior experience with computers and lacked basic digital skills (OECD, 2016). According to a recent national study, the lack of digital skills prevents people from finding employment. It also poses a job risk for those employees whose work is already or will soon be affected by digitalisation (Lapatsioras et al., 2020). Some trainees completed their classes via distance learning during the lockdown in order to take the final training/apprenticeship examinations after educational institutions reopened. In some organisations, all continuous VET (CVET) courses were postponed except for a small percentage offered through distance learning. Remedial measures after schools’ reopening included extending the training period, increasing hours for study and practical work, adjusting exam conditions. The 2020 country-specific recommendation urges Greece to develop a ‘very-high capacity digital infrastructure and skills.’ (Council of the EU, 2020).
7. Modernising higher education
Employment of tertiary graduates has risen, but their lack of soft skills affects their job prospects. In 2019, 43.1% of adults aged 30-34 had attained tertiary education, above the EU-27 average of 40.3%. However, among foreign-born people, only 16.1% had a tertiary degree, the lowest share in the EU (EU average: 35.3%). The employment rate among recent graduates (20-34 year-olds) was 64.2% in 2019. Though still the lowest rate in the EU (EU average: 85.0%), it has exceeded 2010 levels for the first time. The employment of people with secondary education, on the other hand, trails behind the EU average for both general (51.3%) and vocational (50.9%) profiles. Employers have observed a significant lack of skills related to communication, teamwork, flexibility and adaptability among job candidates in general (Adecco, 2018). Greek students, while apparently less aware of the relevance of soft skills than students in other countries, also feel they lack skills in areas they consider essential for job performance, including communication, teamwork, self-confidence and work ethic (Pereira et al., 2019).
Greek higher education caters mostly to undergraduate studies. Greece has by far the EU’s highest share of students enrolled in undergraduate programmes (86% v EU-27 average of 60%9). But at master’s level the share is only 10% (EU average: 29%). Many students leave the country for post-graduate studies. In 2017, 25.8% of master’s graduates obtained their degree abroad (EU average: 5.3%). Inward degree mobility by contrast is one of the lowest in the EU. Through legislation introduced in 2020, universities are now allowed to offer undergraduate programmes in foreign languages, joint degrees and double degrees between Greek and foreign HEIs.
Figure 4 - Share of degree-mobile graduates, 2018
Source: DG EAC computation on UOE data. For details about definitions see Flisi, S. and Sánchez-Barrioluengo, M. (2018). Learning Mobility II. An estimation of the benchmark.
Box 2: How do graduates in Greece get on?
The EUROGRADUATE pilot survey among bachelor’s and master’s graduates in eight countries10 confirms that Greek graduates face increased challenges. Many relate to the difficult labour market situation, but some are linked to the quality of education and work environment (European Commission, 2020a). Survey findings include:
Comparing study conditions, it appears that 78% of bachelor’s students rely on financial support from their families while only 1% receive a grant. Universities on the other hand provide a work-related learning environment through internships or work placement at bachelor’s rather than at master’s level. This might be one reason why skills mismatches are less pronounced for bachelor’s than for master’s graduates.
However, the lack of higher-skilled jobs is the main reason for the pronounced vertical skills mismatch, i.e. people working in positions below their qualification. Education, arts and humanities programmes match available jobs the least (45%), while natural sciences (including mathematics) and health (79.2%) provide the best match. Many students and graduates therefore decide to leave, since they receive around 80% higher hourly earnings outside Greece. Another option is self-employment, including with staff - which 5 years after graduation a much higher proportion of graduates has resorted to than in other countries.
Skills/job misallocation also has a non-economic impact, including on personal happiness, health, trust, and attitudes towards immigration or the EU. Greek graduates report an exceptionally low work-life balance and their perception that their jobs are useful for society is lower than in other EU countries. They also report fewer learning opportunities, poorer career prospects and lower levels of autonomy on the job, which is related to the high share of vertical jobs mismatch.
So far, graduate tracking has been largely lacking in Greece. However, 2020 legislation introduced the legal obligation to track higher education graduates. Setting-up comprehensive graduate tracking is estimated to take 6 years (European Commission, 2020b).
Prior to initiating major reforms in higher education, previous policy measures were reversed. The process of establishing 38 departments across different universities in Greece, following the merger of technical education institutions with universities (European Commission, 2018), was suspended in 2019. The government also abolished the university asylum (ibid.) and repealed the creation of two-year level 5 European Qualifications Framework (EQF) tertiary (VET) courses at universities as well as access to low-demand departments for first-time students without national exams. As before, all departments receive university entrants by central allocation based on competitive exams.
The Hellenic Authority for Higher Education (HAHE) has replaced the former quality assurance agency. In addition to all external quality assurance for HEIs, the new body will help formulate and implement the national higher education strategy, and help allocate universities’ funding. The higher education authority is governed by a Supreme Council consisting of five active or retired professors from Greek or foreign higher education institutions. The president of the Supreme Council, who is appointed by the Greek Parliament, is actively involved in choosing the other council members. Since spring 2020, HAHE has been fully operational.
Greece is introducing performance-based funding and amending degree recognition. According to legislation passed in January 2020, universities’ funding will be partly based on performance criteria, including on internationalisation, absorption of graduates in the labour market and the ratio of new entrants to graduates. Universities can select the group of indicators that will determine 20% of their funding. The first funding agreements under the new conditions are expected from 2022 onwards. The same law also ensures recognition of degrees from private foreign colleges, including franchised colleges in Greece.
8. Promoting adult learning
Raising participation in adult education remains a key challenge. The share of adults participating in learning decreased from 4.5%, in 2018, to 3.9% in 2019 (EU average: 10.8%). The percentage of low-qualified adults participating in learning is, at only 0.8%, among the lowest in Europe (EU average: 4.3%). A dedicated project has been launched to increase the participation of low-skilled adults in learning and improve their core skills, including digital skills.
The development and validation of distance teaching and counselling skills for educators in the public and private sector is vital. Quality e-learning training programmes are underdeveloped. The Ministry of Education is planning to develop a crash course (15 hours) in digital skills and distance learning for all public sector teachers.
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Annex I: Key indicators sources
|Indicator||Eurostat online data code|
|Early leavers from education and training||edat_lfse_14 + edat_lfse_02|
|Tertiary educational attainment||edat_lfse_03 + edat_lfs_9912|
|Early childhood education||educ_uoe_enra10|
|Underachievement in reading, maths and science||OECD (PISA)|
|Employment rate of recent graduates||edat_lfse_24|
|Adult participation in learning||trng_lfse_03|
|Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP||gov_10a_exp|
|Expenditure on public and private institutions per student||educ_uoe_fini04|
- Degree-mobile graduates
- Credit-mobile graduates
|DG EAC computation based on Eurostat / UIS / OECD data|
Annex II: Structure of the education system
Source: European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2020. The Structure of the European Education Systems 2019/2020: Schematic Diagrams. Eurydice Facts and Figures. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.