Less than one-third of adults have completed primary education in many sub-Saharan African countries. In most Western European countries, by contrast, nearly all adults have completed primary education and, in many cases, one-third of adults have a tertiary degree.

Educational attainment refers to the highest level of education that an individual has completed. By tracking attainment levels across countries and over time, the UIS provides unique insights into the benefits that can arise from education – from the earning potential of individuals to the economic growth and well-being of societies at large.

This is why educational attainment is one of the indicators to measure progress towards Sustainable Development Goal Target 4.4: “By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship”. High educational attainment is also associated with better health, increased civic engagement, decreased violence and crime, and other factors linked to sustainable development.

UIS data can be used to track the percentages of adults (aged 25 years and older) who have completed the levels of education defined in the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), from primary education to doctoral degrees.

Data on educational attainment are also used to generate estimates of mean years of schooling, that is the average number of years of education completed by a country’s adult population, excluding years spent repeating grades. Mean years of schooling is one of the two education indicators used to calculate the Human Development Index; the other indicator is the school life expectancy, also called expected years of schooling.

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