1. Key indicators
Figure 1 – Key indicators overview
|Education and training 2020 benchmarks|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||19.1%||13.5%||14.0%||10.2%|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 30-34)||19.0%||27.6%||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||21.0%||23.3%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)||60.6%||58.7%||78.0%||80.9%|
|Adult participation in learning (age 25-64)||ISCED 0-8 (total)||6.0%||8.1%||7.9%||10.8%b|
|Learning mobility||Degree mobile graduates (ISCED 5-8)||:||4.8%18||:||4.3%18|
|Credit mobile graduates (ISCED 5-8)||:||8.9%18||:||9.1%18|
|Other contextual indicators|
|Education investment||Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP||4.5%||4.0% 18||5.1%||4.6%18|
|Expenditure on public and private institutions per student in € PPS||ISCED 1-2||€6 14112||€6 62217||€6 072d, 12||€6 240d, 16|
|ISCED 3-4||:12||€7 57917||:12||€7 757d, 16|
|ISCED 5-8||€7 771d, 12||€8 51417||€9 679d, 12||€9 977d, 16|
|Early leavers from education and training (age 18-24)||Native-born||16.6%||11.3%||12.6%||8.9%|
|Tertiary educational attainment (age 30-34)||Native-born||20.0%||31.2%||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||55.9%||52.9%||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, := 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).
- The early school leaving rate is declining but remains above the EU average, particularly among the foreign-born population, while the tertiary attainment rate remains low.
- During the COVID-19 crisis most schools were able to implement distance learning at very short notice, but efforts are needed to include vulnerable students and increase quality.
- The recent reform of vocational education and training (VET) is expected to improve its labour market relevance, especially at local level.
- Transition from education to work is difficult, leading to a growing outflow of highly qualified young people.
3. A focus on digital education
Italy’s current policy framework for digital education is the National Plan for Digital Schools (Piano Nazionale Scuola Digitale – PNSD), adopted under the 2015 school reform. Before the plan’s adoption in 2016, government action had been limited to funding specific activities1 with support from European Structural Funds for a total expenditure of EUR 494 million. The PNSD’s stated objective is to transform Italian education through innovation and the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for teaching, learning and school management. The plan aims to coordinate the action of a variety of players (schools, municipalities, private foundations, regional governments) and different sources of funding, including structural funds. The plan lists 35 actions covering every aspect of schools’ digitalisation, from infrastructure and IT equipment to redesigning classrooms and strengthening the digital competences of both teachers and pupils. The Ministry of Education monitors the plan’s implementation, but no data has been made public so far. he COVID-19 crisis has led the government to step up investment in the digitalisation of schools (see Section 5).
Schools are digitally equipped in line with other EU countries, but the level and speed of connectivity lags behind. While virtually all schools have an internet connection (95,4%, MIUR), only 26.9% have a high speed connection, well below the EU average of 47%. Insufficient internet access is reported by 43% of school leaders (OECD, TALIS 2019) (EU-22 23.8%). Students’ confidence in their digital competence is comparable to the EU average, as is the share of students who use a computer at school on a weekly basis. By contrast, the proportion of teachers who feel well or very well prepared to use ICT for teaching is lower than the EU-22 average (35.6% v 37.5%) (OECD, TALIS 2019). The COVID-19 crisis has led the government to step up investment in the digitalisation of schools (see Section 5).
An ageing teaching workforce with insufficient ICT skills contributes to the slow progress of digital innovation in teaching. In 2018, 68% of teachers reported having participated in in-service training in ICT for teaching in that year, a marked increase over 2013 (15 pps), and only 16.6% felt a strong need for ICT training, below the EU-22 average of 18% (OECD, 2019). However, while the share of teachers who frequently or always let students use ICT for projects and class work grew from 30% in 2013 to 46.6% in 2018, only 35% of teachers reported using ICT when teaching in most or every lesson in 2018, compared to 72% in Finland and 49% in Portugal. In addition, teachers tend to use ICT mainly to consult information sources (33%) and content linked to textbooks (34%), in line with a frontal teaching approach, while only a minority uses interactive learning resources, practice programmes or learning games (Figure 3). The lack of familiarity with more innovative digital technologies for teaching may reflect the age composition of the teaching workforce2, and the need to strengthen in-service training in ICT for older teachers.
Figure 3 - Teachers who reported using digital learning ICT tools in most lessons, almost every, or every lesson, 2018
Source: IEA International Computer and Information Literacy Study 2018 International Report.
The switch to distance learning caused by COVID-19 highlighted the need to ensure equal access to all learners, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, already at risk of exclusion. A national survey by the Ministry of Education found that virtually all schools were able to put in place remote learning activities, and only 2.6% of students did not have access to any form of distance learning. However, according to the national statistical office, in 2019 over 12% of children aged between 6 and 17 lived in families with no PC or tablet (rising to almost one fifth in the south), and only 6% lived in families with at least one PC per person. In addition, 4 out of 10 children lived in overcrowded conditions (Istat 2020). The Council of the European Union adopted a country-specific recommendation for Italy under the 2020 European Semester to ‘strengthen distance learning and skills, including digital ones’ (Council of the European Union, 2020).
Between March and June 2020, the government allocated EUR 201.7 million to support distance learning. Measures include the acquisition of digital devices for schools to enable students to participate in distance learning.
Box 1: Integrating traditional textbooks with self-produced digital educational content
Avanguardie Educative (Educational Avant-garde) is a network of Italian schools created in 2014 on the initiative of INDIRE, Italy’s national institute for research in education. Its purpose is to rethink the Italian school model, still strongly classroom-lecture-activity-based and constrained by rigid organisation of the schedule. Over the years the network has grown from the initial 22 schools to 100.
Among the innovative ideas promoted by Avanguardie Educative is CDD/Libri di testo (where CDD stands for Contenuti Didattici Digitali or Digital Didactic Content). The idea is to go beyond the traditional printed textbook associated with lecture-centred schooling by involving students in creating the content of their books. The CDD Textbooks Guidelines argue that the textbook should be a ‘canvas’ that guides class activity, filled with content connected to the particular context of the school. The aim is to overcome the concept of studying as just rote learning; creating digital content implies cooperation among the whole class, a critical use of different tools and resources in the analysis of various languages, and the development of social skills.
For students, designing and producing the ‘pages’ of a textbook involves a range of skills that include information retrieval, understanding and interpreting collected data, formulation of hypotheses and concepts, and their formalisation and representation in a form appropriate to their communication. It also means experimenting with new forms of writing using the tools offered by digital support and students’ reflection on such new forms.
For teachers, the production of texts in class can be a way to produce content adapted to different learning needs, motivate students through their active involvement and link content to the local area.
The production of digital content (or textbooks) is an opportunity to re-adjust the curriculum according to specific needs of a particular context and the demands and characteristics of the school and the student. It allows marginal themes of the curriculum to be addressed, such as local history and topics that are not present in traditional textbooks, and allows students to express their ideas about their reality and re-establish a more authentic relationship with their world.
4. Investing in education and training
Despite a slight increase in 2018, Italy’s education expenditure remains among the lowest in the EU. General government expenditure on education in 2018 increased in real terms by 1% on the previous year, but remains well below the EU average, both as a proportion of GDP (4% v 4.6%) and as a proportion of total general government expenditure, which at 8.2% is the lowest in the EU (9.9%). While the share of GDP allocated to pre-primary, primary and secondary education is broadly in line with EU standards, expenditure on tertiary education is the lowest in the EU, both as a percentage of GDP (0.3% v 0.8%) and as a proportion of government expenditure on education (7.7% v 16.4%). It is worth noting that while general government expenditure on education declined by 7% overall in 2010-2018, expenditure on higher education was cut by 19% over the same period.
Teachers’ salaries make up the largest share of education expenditure. Over three-quarters of the education budget (76%) was spent on employee compensation in 2018, (EU average 65%), while expenditure on intermediate consumption and gross capital formation were well below the EU average (10% and 3% respectively; EU 13% and 7%).
Extra funding was made available to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. As part of its response to the COVID-19 crisis the government allocated almost EUR 3 billion to alleviating the economic impact on students, families, schools and universities. The funds are equally divided between the school and higher education sectors (EUR 1.45 billion and EUR 1.5 billion respectively) and will be used for various needs, including preparations for school reopening, financial support for students, organisation of open competitions to recruit teachers, and school building and maintenance work. Administrative procedures for school construction and maintenance have been simplified in order to enable local governments (owners of the buildings) to intervene more rapidly.
5. Modernising early childhood and school education
Participation in early childhood education (ECE) is almost universal for 4-6 year-olds, but enrolment of younger children is low. 95% of 4-6 year-olds were enrolled in ECE in 2018, in line with the EU average of 96.4%. By contrast, only 25.7% of children below three were enrolled in formal childcare, compared to 34.7% in the EU, with major disparities across regions (European Commission 2019c). The 2020 Budget Law strengthened financial support for families with children aged 0-3 enrolled in ECE, and implementation of the `integrated education system from 0 to 6´ introduced by the 2015 school reform is expected to improve coverage and reduce geographical disparities. COVID-19 emergency legislation allocated an extra EUR 15 million to the latter, as well as EUR 165 million to compensate nursery schools for lost fees.
Early school leaving (ESL) is again on a declining trend, but remains among the highest in the EU, particularly in the south and among the foreign-born population. The proportion of early leavers from education and training in the 18-24 age group was 13.5% in 2019, down from 14.5% the previous year, confirming the downward trend of the past decade (Figure 4). While below the national target of 16%, the ESL rate remains well above the EU average of 10.2% and falls considerably short of the EU 2020 benchmark of 10%. ESL rates vary widely across regions, from 9.6% in the northeast to 16.7% in the south. Boys are more likely than girls to be early school leavers (15.4% v 11.3%). At 32.5%, the ESL rate for foreign-born 18-24 year-olds is almost three times as high as for natives (11.3%) and considerably higher than the EU average of 22.2%.
Figure 4 - Early leavers from education and training, (18-24), 2009 - 2019
Source: Eurostat, Labour Force Survey: [edat_lfse_14].
School education in Italy produces mixed results in terms of basic skills proficiency, with significant differences between regions and types of schools. Compared to 2015, Italian 15 year-old students’ performance in the 2018 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) remained broadly stable in mathematics and reading but worsened in science, in line with international trends. The percentage of low performers is close to the EU average in reading and maths, but higher in science3. There is significant geographical variation, with students in the north of the country scoring well above the EU average in reading, and students in the south and islands significantly below. In a system characterised by early tracking, performance also varies according to type of school: students in upper general education (licei) obtain a much higher score (521 points) than those in technical and vocational institutes (458 and 395 points respectively). Differences between regions and schools are also reflected in the distribution of top- and low-performing students (PISA 2018).
No effort has been made to assess the learning loss caused by school closures. As the 2020 round of national standardised testing was cancelled, the first indications won’t be available until the next round of testing in June 2021.
Socio-economic background has a comparatively limited influence on learning achievement, but influences expectations. A student’s socio-economic background was found to account for a difference of 75 score points in reading, well below the EU average of 97. However, when it comes to career expectations, only 59.5% of high-performing disadvantaged students expected to complete tertiary education, against 88% of their advantaged peers. This may contribute to Italy’s low tertiary education attainment rate (see also Section 7).
Gender stereotypes are pervasive and may impact career choices. While girls are better at reading than boys (by 25 score points, in line with the EU average), they are outperformed in maths by 16 points, the largest gap in the EU. The average gender gap in science is negligible, but rises to 11 points in favour of boys among top-performing students. Among top performers in science or mathematics, boys are twice as likely as girls to expect to work in science or engineering when they are 30, while the opposite is true for the health professions.
Integrating foreign students remains a challenge. Compared to native students, foreign students4 are at higher risk of grade repetition (27.3% v 14.3%) and of dropping out of school (2.92% v 0.45%)5. Compared to Italian-born students of similar ability6, they also tend to enrol disproportionately in vocational (VET) schools offering little prospect of progressing to higher education, as opposed to technical and academically-oriented high schools7. This could ultimately have long-term effects on the skills and occupational careers of children with a migrant background, reducing social mobility and creating unequal opportunities (Cardana et al., 2019).
The government is taking steps to address the regional divide in competence achievement. In January, the Ministry of Education presented an action plan to reduce geographical gaps in education. The plan anticipates the identification of troubled schools (scuole ‘in difficoltà’) in five southern regions8 and the creation of a task force in each region involving Ministry representatives, local administrators and ministerial research agencies (INDIRE, INVALSI) entrusted with analysing existing data and proposing interventions addressing key competences , effective learning, variance in results, and school effectiveness. While a step in the right direction, further efforts will be necessary to address some of the underlying factors in the unequal quality of education, such as excessive teacher turnover, which tends to deprive disadvantaged schools of the best teachers (European Commission 2019c), the lack of effective management tools based on quality monitoring and appraisal of teachers and school leaders; and students’ motivation in a context of low economic returns to education.
Box 2: Strengthening schools’ educational offer to combat early school leaving in Campania
‘Scuola Viva’ is a project launched by the Region of Campania in the school year 2016/2017 with European Social Fund (ESF) funding. The project aims to structure and strengthen schools’ educational offer and related networks, promote social innovation and inclusiveness to combat early school leaving, including by expanding, diversifying and enriching cultural experiences within training paths. The activity takes the form of thematic modules, at each school’s choice, with a duration of at least 30 hours each, such as educational and technical/professional workshops for the development of basic skills; art, theatre and music workshops, recreational activities, psychological counselling, direct involvement of families and enterprises. To date, around 450 schools have been financed each year. Around 420 000 students from different types of school have been involved, with an average of 26 enrolled pupils per laboratory. The educational workshops activated each year amounted to 4 000 for a total of more than 150 000 hours of activity for the school population and the territory of the region as a whole.
Project `Scuola Viva´ – OP ESF Campania 2014-2020
Project period: 2016 – 2021
Budget (total cost): EUR 25 million per year (total allocated: EUR 100 million)
App: Viva Campania School
6. Modernising vocational education and training
The educational content of VET has been redefined by the State-Regions Conference. The resulting agreement updated the national classification (repertory) of professional profiles (Repertorio nazionale di figure professionali) and is expected to improve the labour market relevance of VET provision, especially at local level.
The government revised the work-based learning pathways (Alternanza Scuola-Lavoro) and renamed them ‘Pathways for transversal competences and guidance’9. The objective is to facilitate the acquisition of skills for personal and professional development, allowing learners to put into practice the competences acquired at school and to develop transversal competences through real tasks in operational contexts. Additional funding has been allocated to the establishment of new Higher Technical Institutes.
During the COVID-19 crisis, many regional VET providers moved their learning towards distance mode and strongly developed digital competences of teachers, trainers and learners. Project work online and simulations were introduced to replace the practical training that could not take place in laboratories and companies.
The ‘Rilancio’ Law Decree of 19 May 2020, converted into Law 77 of 17 July 2020, created the ‘New Skills Fund’ (NSF) focused on active labour market policies. The NSF combines the need to reduce the consequences on employment of the Covid-19 emergency with training of workers. As for its budget, an initial amount of EUR 230 million by the OP SPAO has been increased by EUR 500 million by the ‘Agosto’ Law Decree, and it will allow companies to be compensated for reduction in working time under condition that the worker attends continuing vocational training.
7. Modernising higher education
Italy’s tertiary educational attainment rate declined slightly in 2019, and is one of the lowest in the EU. At 27.6% in 2019, the share of 30-34 year-olds with tertiary education is above the Europe 2020 national target of 26%-27%, but well below the EU average of 40.3%. At 13.9 % (EU average 35.3%), the attainment rate is particularly low among foreign-born people. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates make up 24% of all graduates, only slightly below the EU average of 25.4%. At 19 pps, the STEM gender gap is significantly lower than the EU average of 25 pps. The share of female graduates is higher than the EU average across STEM disciplines, most notably in engineering, where women make up 32% of graduates (EU-28%).
Tertiary enrolments are projected to fall sharply following the COVID-19 pandemic. According to some estimates, shrinking household budgets and a lower willingness to move for health reasons could result in 35 000 fewer university enrolments in the 2020/2021 academic year, an 11% decrease from the previous year, representing a loss of EUR 46 million in tuition fees (Osservatorio Talents Venture 2020). The Ministry of University and Research has therefore decided to allocate an additional EUR 290 million to students’ financial support. The funds will be used to extend the system of fee exemptions (the no tax area) to students coming from households with an income up to EUR 20 000 (currently EUR 13 000), bringing the number of potential beneficiaries to 500 000 from the current 300 000. The state fund for student grants (Fondo integrativo statale) was increased by EUR 40 million, to be disbursed with a particular attention to eligible students who currently do not receive a grant due to lack of funds.
While a tertiary degree represents an advantage on the labour market, transition into employment remains difficult. The employment rate of recent tertiary graduates10 has been steadily recovering over the past 5 years, reaching 64.9% in 2019, up 8 pps compared to 2014. While it is considerably higher than the employment rates for VET and general upper school graduates11, it remains well below the EU average of 85%. Low demand from a productive sector characterised by small and medium-sized firms is a factor in graduates’ poor employment prospects.
An increasing number of university graduates are leaving the country. Of the 157 000 Italians who moved abroad in 2018, 27 000 had a tertiary degree, an increase of 6% on the previous year. In the same year, 13 000 Italian graduates moved back from abroad, resulting in a net loss of highly qualified people of 13 000 in 2018, and 101 000 over the past 10 years (Istat 2019). This appears to indicate that the system of fiscal incentives introduced in 2017 to encourage the return of highly qualified professionals is not succeeding in stemming the outflow of highly qualified people.
The government has allocated additional funding to recruit academic staff in state universities. EUR 96.5 million a year was allocated to recruit 1 600 assistant professors (ricercatore universitario di tipo B) from 2021, and EUR 15 million to promote 1 000 assistant professors to a tenured position (professore di seconda fascia) from 2022. The funds will be distributed among universities based on their size and, to a lesser extent, the quality of their research. After several postponements, the government has launched the fourth round of evaluation of the research results of universities and public research institutes (Valutazione della Qualità dei prodotti della Ricerca, VQR), whose results influence almost a third of the allocation of public research funding. The new exercise covers 2015-2019 and will take at least a year to complete, meaning that until 2021 funding allocation to universities and research centres will still be based on the assessment results for 2011-2014.
The budget law for 2020 provides for the establishment of a new public agency to promote and fund strategic research activities. The new agency (ANR-Agenzia Nazionale per la Ricerca) may help increase the effectiveness of public expenditure in research and development, but does not represent an increase in Italy’s overall investment in research, which stood at 1.4% of GDP in 2018 (EU average 2.2%)12. The agency’s budget was set by the previous Education Minister at EUR 25 million for 2020, EUR 200 million for 2021, and EUR 300 million for 2022. However, almost half the new agency’s budget has been subsequently diverted to funding the recruitment of new academic staff. With Ministerial Decree of 13 May 2020, n. 81, the Minister of University and Research has allocated 60 million euro as co-financement to Universities for the enhancement of technological infrastructures, digital education and student services.
8. Promoting adult learning
A national strategic plan for adult competences was announced for 2020 to tackle the high rate of low-skilled people in Italy. The plan aims to improve coordination between the different players and processes involved in lifelong learning, to jointly establish national training strategies for 2020-2022 to ensure integration and return to the labour market. Italy ranks 25th of 28 EU Member States in the European Commission Digital Economy and Society Index 2020. The level of digital skills differs significantly among those employed in different economic activities. Digital skills are more widespread in the services sector, followed by public administration, and lowest in the industrial and primary sectors. This might hamper innovation and inclusion in society and the labour market.
The National repository for regional vocational qualifications has been updated following an agreement in the State-Regions Conference. Covering qualifications from general education, higher education and VET, the framework fosters validation, permeability and guidance practices.
Italy has adopted its first national strategy for digital skills, targeting the population at large. In 2019, 41.5% of Italians had at least basic digital skills (below the EU average of 58.3%) and only 22% had more advanced (i.e. above basic) digital skills (EU average 33.3%). The new strategy was adopted in July 2020 in the framework of the Digital Republic initiative. It covers education, the active workforce, ICT specialist skills and digital skills for active citizenship and democratic participation,under the co-ordination of the relevant ministries. The availability of distance learning courses is a positive development: there are 5 AGORÀ classrooms (online lectures) authorised by the Regional School Offices of Liguria, Apulia and Sicily. The Italian Ministry of Education is supporting experimentation in the Provincial Adult Education Centres with the PIAAC self-assessment tool developed by the OECD.
Agcom (2019), ‘Educare Digitale. Lo stato di sviluppo della scuola digitale. Un sistema complesso ed integrato di risorse digitali abilitanti’. https://www.agcom.it/documents/10179/14037496/Studio-Ricerca+28-02-2019/af1e36a5-e866-4027-ab30-5670803a60c2?version=1.0
Almalaurea (2020), XXII Indagine Profilo dei Laureati 2019. https://www.almalaurea.it/sites/almalaurea.it/files/docs/universita/profilo/profilo2020/rapportoalmalaurea2020_sintesi_profilo.pdf
Carlana M et al. (2017). ‘Goals and Gaps: Educational Careers of Immigrant Children,’ Working Papers 111, ‘Carlo F. Dondena’ Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
Ceccaroni, R. 2018. Zero/sei. Il sistema integrato di educazione e di istruzione dalla nascita fino a sei anni: obiettivi, monitoraggio e valutazione. Documento di valutazione n.9. Ufficio valutazione Impatto. Senato della Repubblica.
Cedefop; National Institute for the Analysis of Public Policies (2019). Vocational education and training in Europe: Italy [From Cedefop; ReferNet. Vocational education and training in Europe database]. https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/tools/vet-in-europe/systems/italy
Cedefop ReferNet (2020), Italy: 2020 update of VET policy developments in the deliverables agreed in the 2015 Riga conclusions. Unpublished
Council of the European Union (2020), Council Recommendation on the 2020 National Reform Programme of Italy and delivering a Council opinion on the 2020 Stability Programme of Italy.
European Commission (2019), 2nd Survey of Schools: ICT in education, Italy Country Report. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/2nd-survey-schools-ict-education
European Commission (2020a), Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), 2020 Country Profile Italy. https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/dae/document.cfm?doc_id=66918
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Istat (2019), Iscrizioni e cancellazioni anagrafiche della popolazione residente - Anno 2018 https://www.istat.it/it/files/2019/12/REPORT_migrazioni_2018.pdf
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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.
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