Forty percent is the target that the European countries agreed to in 2010, in the middle of the global economic crisis: it would have to be reached in ten years’ time. And now, the European statistics bureau Eurostat has announced that this goal will be successfully achieved. In fact, it already has been.

For the Netherlands, it was an easy task. The Dutch were already above 40 percent in 2010. In the meantime, nearly half of all Dutch citizens between 30 and 34 years old has a college or university degree.

Counting up

The percentages do not tell the full story. Lithuania and Cyprus have rates over 55 percent, while Germany, the economic powerhouse of the European Union, is stuck at 34 percent. This is partly a result of the way in which higher education is defined. Some countries count courses that are part of MBO (secondary vocational education) in the Netherlands. Conversely, in Germany nursing and physiotherapy are not considered to be higher education.

In Europe, women are doing better than men; at least, they obtain more degrees in higher education. In 2010, they were already at 37.3 percent and have now reached 44.9 percent, far higher than the norm. Meanwhile, men went from 30.3 percent to 34.9 percent; so, they started behind, and are now trailing even further.

Women are doing better in the Netherlands too. In ten years’ time, men here went from 38.4 to 44 percent with higher education, while women went from 44.4 percent to 51.8 percent.

In the lead

In some countries, women only have a very small lead (in Germany for example). In two non-EU countries, Switzerland and Turkey, men are even a few percent ahead.

But in other countries, the difference is considerable: for example, in Slovenia 59 percent of women have completed higher education, compared to just 35 percent of men.