A report released by the European Commission (EC) in December 2015 has looked at the extent to which higher education completion rates vary across regions of Europe.

The study is based on a comprehensive analysis of literature and policy documents on study success in higher education, a Europe-wide survey of national higher education experts as well as eight in-depth country case studies.

According to the findings, study success is regarded as important in 75 percent of the 35 European countries that were surveyed, with almost 50 percent classing it as ‘High’ or ‘Very High’ on the policy agenda.

So how do the countries of Europe differ when it comes to handling rates of student course completion?


Course completion rate: 82%

Importance of Study Success = Very High or High on the Agenda

According to OECD data, the UK completion rate increased from 74 percent in 2005 to 82 percent in 2011. The 1998 introduction of annual tuition fees and the £9,000 cap introduced in 2012 greatly contributed to this growth. The fundamental reason for the implementation of the fees was to improve university retention and completion rates within the UK.

The EC claims the high completion rate is down to a “fairly tight admissions system” that allows important institutional freedom, paired with the knowledge that students can attain a degree over a set three-year period.


Course completion rate: 81%

Importance of Study Success = Very High or High on the Agenda

In terms of completion rates, Denmark is among the top performers in Europe, with 81 percent of students graduating from their course according to 2011 OECD data.

In 2013, the Danish government introduced reforms that altered the structure of funding for both students and institutions, making all loans and grants entirely performance-based.  The introductory of a compulsory study plan system means full-time students must now opt for study packages worth at least 60 European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) credits per year (30 a semester), meaning they cannot pull out of exams related to the course and must enrol on a new course each academic year.

The Danish system has certainly inspired debate, since as of yet, there is little sign of the effectiveness of the reforms. However, the EC predicts the system will encourage students to complete their course within the supposed study duration.


Course completion rate: 80%

Importance of Study Success = Very High or High on the Agenda

Success in France tends not to be measured in terms of completion, but rather on the student’s ability to find relevant employment after graduation.

France has not fared too well in terms of student completion throughout recent years. According to figures from 2013, almost every second student in their first year at a French university drops out before the course is completed. Many attribute this to a lack of pastoral care and guidance which leads to students undertaking courses for which they are not suited.

The government plans to address this problem by offering the universities funding incentives that are subject to performance regarding rates of course completion.


Course completion rate: not disclosed (77% in 2005)

Importance of Study Success = On the Agenda

The importance of study success varies across regional Germany; in Berlin however, the belief is that study success reflects the quality of teaching, so the government provides extra funding to encourage institutions to improve their educational provisions.

The final phase of the Higher Education Pact 2020, which awards universities €26,000 per additional student over a four-year period, will see the institutions invest 10 percent of funding from the pact into improving study success.

The Netherlands

Course completion rate: 72%

Importance of Study Success = Very High or High on the Agenda

The primary aim for the Netherlands is to match students to their most suited course of study, which should result in higher rates of course completion.

In 1996, the government introduced a system that changed all student funding into loans, but the loan was converted into a non-repayable grant if the student completed their degree within 10 years. This has contributed to a gradual decrease in the average time to complete a four-year degree from 6.5 to 5.8 years.

Other countries surveyed include:

Czech Republic

Course completion rate: 72%

Importance of Study Success = On the Agenda


Course completion rate: 62%

Importance of Study Success = On the Agenda


Course completion rate: 59%

Importance of Study Success = Very High or High on the Agenda

The study concludes that, when it comes to handling and improving rates of course completion, there is considerable variation between the countries of Europe.

“Although empirical data does not allow for comparisons between countries with respect to the impact of specific policies for improving study success,” the report notes, “it can be argued that successful policy-making is not so much about ‘doing more’ as it is about developing a careful policy design…”

Image via Shutterstock.

Liked this? Then you’ll love these…

Students name the most underrated UK universities

DAAD Reveals 5000 Refugees are Competing for 200 German Scholarships