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Glossary:International standard classification of education (ISCED)

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The International standard classification of education, abbreviated as ISCED, is an instrument for compiling internationally comparable education statistics. The ISCED 97 version covers two classification variables: levels and fields of education as well as general/vocational/prevocational orientation and educational/labour market destination. ISCED 97 was implemented in the European Union (EU) for collecting data starting with the 1997/98 school year.

A newer version, ISCED 2011, is available here. At present, however, the data published still refer to periods when only ISCED 97 was used.

Levels of education

There are seven levels of education in ISCED 97.

  • Level 0: Pre-primary education – the initial stage of organised instruction; it is school- or centre-based and is designed for children aged at least three years.
  • Level 1: Primary education – begins between five and seven years of age, is the start of compulsory education where it exists and generally covers six years of full-time schooling.
  • Level 2: Lower secondary education – continues the basic programmes of the primary level, although teaching is typically more subject-focused. Usually, the end of this level coincides with the end of compulsory education.
  • Level 3: Upper secondary education – generally begins at the end of compulsory education. The entrance age is typically 15 or 16 years. Entrance qualifications (end of compulsory education) and other minimum entry requirements are usually needed. Instruction is often more subject-oriented than at ISCED level 2. The typical duration of ISCED level 3 varies from two to five years.
  • Level 4: Post-secondary non-tertiary education – between upper secondary and tertiary education. This level serves to broaden the knowledge of ISCED level 3 graduates. Typical examples are programmes designed to prepare pupils for studies at level 5 or programmes designed to prepare pupils for direct labour market entry.
  • Level 5: Tertiary education (first stage) – entry to these programmes normally requires the successful completion of ISCED level 3 or 4. This includes tertiary programmes with academic orientation (type A) which are largely theoretical and tertiary programmes with an occupational orientation (type B). The latter are typically shorter than type A programmes and aimed at preparing students for the labour market.
  • Level 6: Tertiary education (second stage) – reserved for tertiary studies that lead to an advanced research qualification (Ph.D. or doctorate).

Fields of education

The ISCED classification comprises 22 fields of education in all (at two-digit level), which can be further refined into the three-digit level. At the highest one-digit level the following eight broad groups of fields of education are distinguished:

  1. education;
  2. humanities and arts;
  3. social sciences, business and law;
  4. science;
  5. engineering, manufacturing and construction;
  6. agriculture;
  7. health and welfare;
  8. services.

Further information

Statistical data