Education and training are particularly important subject matters, as they lay the basis for a full and conscious exercise of citizenship and the improvement of human capital. Higher educational attainments are associated to more job opportunities, higher salaries, better health conditions and a greater individual social commitment, with positive impacts on society.
The improvement of the education and training levels has played a fundamental role in the economic and social policies of the European Union, to the point that it constitutes an integral part of the Europe 2020 strategy. Indeed, the ten-year plan for growth and employment launched in 2010 by the EU aimed at creating the conditions for a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Public spending on education makes it possible to assess policies for growth and human capital. In 2018, in Italy, the share of public expenditure on education accounted for 4.0% of GDP; it was stable compared to the previous year.
The educational attainment of people aged between 25 and 64 offers an overall picture. In recent years, the educational attainment of the Italian population further enhanced. Indeed, the percentage of poorly educated adults fell by 13.6 percentage points between 2004 and 2019 and registered an additional decrease in 2020. The value stood at 37.5%, but the share of population having at most a diploma of lower secondary education was higher for male (39.8%) than for female (35.3%).
With regard to the percentage of early leavers from education and training, in 2020, in Italy, the value was equal to 13.1%, with a slight decrease compared to 2019. The national target (16%) fixed for 2020 was reached in 2014, while the European target (10%) was still far away. In fact, the Europe 2020 strategy has set certain objectives in order to the raise the educational attainments of the population.
The steady trend in the percentage of young people holding a tertiary education is also confirmed in 2020: the value was equal to 27.8% (27.6% in 2019). Despite having achieved the national target in 2016, it was well below the EU average target (40%).
In 2018, the young people’s participation rate in education and training accounted for 61.0% among young people aged between 15 and 24 and 37.4% among individuals in the age group between 20 and 24 years old.
In 2020, young people not in employment, education or training (the so-called NEETs) aged between 15 and 29 were 2 million and 100 thousand. The incidence on the relative population was equal to 23.3%; it increased after five consecutive years of reduction. The increase is certainly due to the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment. The percentage of young people in the NEET condition is higher for women (25.4%) than for men (21.4%).
Finally, in 2020, the participation of adults in training activities - essential for promoting their employment and participation in social and relational life - affected 7.2% of the population between 25 and 64 years (7.4% for male and 7.0% for female). The percentage registered a significant drop, in particular for female, certainly due to the limitations introduced to face the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Italian Regions showed different profiles. Among the geographical areas, the South and Islands of Italy showed the largest education expenditure to GDP ratio (5.7%) compared to the North-West (2.6%).
In 2020, the percentage of poorly educated adults was higher in the South and Islands of Italy (45.6% against 33.3% in the Centre-North) and, in particular, in Puglia the value of 48.5% was registered.
Despite the progress made in recent years, the regional gap persisted with regard to early leavers from education and training, with a distance of 5.1 points between the Centre-North and the South and Islands, where the incidence reached 16.3%. In particular, the highest percentage of young people who dropped out from school was recorded in Sicilia (19.4%), in Campania (17.3%) and in Calabria (16.6%).
The percentage of young people having completed tertiary education was heterogeneous among the regions: in 2020, the gap between the Center-North and the South was equal to 10.2 points. In many regions of the South and Islands, no more than one in five young people held a tertiary degree; while in several regions of the North, one in three reached the highest levels of education. The gender gap persisted: 8.9 points for males, 11.5 points for females.
In 2018, the participation rate in the education and training system of young people aged between 15 and 24 grew in most geographical areas. However, the values of the indicators changed according to geographical areas (higher values were registered in the Center-North) and regions.
The rate of young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) increased in the North and Center, but regional disparities were not overcome: in the South and Islands, the incidence (32.6%) was almost double compared to the Centre-North (17.8%).
Finally, the participation of adults in training activities was higher in the Centre-North (8.0%) compared to the South and Islands, where the lower rates were recorded in Calabria (5.6%), Puglia (5.5%), Campania (5.3%) and Sicilia (4.7%).
In 2018, in the European Union, public expenditure on education to GDP ratio was equal to 4.7%, and it was higher than that recorded in Italy (4.0). Sweden, Denmark and Belgium showed the highest share of expenditure, while Romania and Ireland showed the lowest one.
With regard to the education levels of the population, in 2019, the percentage of adults having a low education was 37.8%, a value significantly higher than the EU average (21.3%); the percentage of young people who dropped out from school (13.5%) was higher than the EU average (10.3%). For these indicators, Italy ranked respectively fourth and fifth in the EU ranking.
Moreover, the percentage of young people with a tertiary education was 27.6%, while the European average was 41.6%. The growing trend of this indicator stopped in 2019 and Italy remained in the penultimate position in the descending ranking of the EU countries, followed by Romania (25.8%), while among the countries that preceded it, nineteen had already reached the European target of 40% set in the Europe 2020 Strategy.
In 2018, the overall participation rate of young people aged between 15 and 24 in the education and training system in Italy was lower than in the majority of EU countries; it was among the lowest in Europe in the age group of people between 20 and 24.
In 2019, with regard to the percentage of young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs), Italy showed the highest value (20.2%) among the EU countries, it was 10 percentage points higher than the European average (10.7%).
Finally, Italy showed lower values than the European average of the indicator on adult participation in training activities, placing itself in the lower half of the ranking. The Scandinavian countries showed the highest percentages (Sweden 34.3%, Finland 29.0% and Denmark 25.3%). The minimum values were recorded in Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia.