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European Commission


Brussels, 2 July 2014

Q&A: European Tertiary Education Register

What is the European Tertiary Education Register (ETER)?

The European Tertiary Education Register (ETER) is funded by the European Commission with the aim of compiling a register of European higher education institutions (HEIs) based on comparable data. ETER includes the following information:

  • Institutional descriptions, e.g. the name of the institution and founding year.

  • Geographical description such as region, city of the main seat and postcode.

  • Numbers of students and graduates at diploma, bachelor, master, doctoral level, gender, fields of education, nationality and mobility.

  • HEI expenditure and revenue.

  • Number of academic and non-academic staff, number of professors.

  • Research activities (PhD students, R&D expenditure)

The extent of the information provided depends on each country's approach. For example, data on revenue and expenditure are not publicly available in many countries.

What does ETER cover, using which data?

In terms of coverage of tertiary education, ETER includes almost all higher education institutions preparing graduates at ISCED level 6 (bachelor), 7 (master) or 8 (doctorate).

The Register currently includes 36 countries and 2673 HEIs, with 29 countries providing a full set of data for 2 250 HEIs. Of the countries delivering full data, the largest number of HEIs are in Germany (374), followed by Poland (286), France (283), Italy (176) and the UK (152).

Almost all ETER data has been provided via national statistical authorities and Ministries. Descriptive and geographical information has been collated from public sources, such the websites of the HEIs.

Why is the Commission funding ETER?

The Commission's agenda for the modernisation of Europe's higher education systems commits it to supporting policy reform through better policy evidence, analysis and transparency, and to work towards developing a European Tertiary Education Register. The Commission provides added value by supporting initiatives that Member States cannot undertake alone, to help achieve systemic improvement in higher education, in particular by developing common tools and gathering evidence. The Commission's goals are to increase the quality of higher education so that students are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need for a demanding and changing labour market; to contribute to job creation and growth; to support Member States in modernising and diversifying higher education. The European Tertiary Education Register (ETER) is a principal tool for this. The Commission will fund ETER until 2015. A decision on future funding will be taken thereafter.

What can the ETER database be used for?

The charts below provide examples of how the ETER database can be used. The information in the charts is based on the institutions included in ETER – covering 85% of the students in each country on average. Smaller institutions with fewer than 200 students are excluded. A fuller dataset, based on aggregated data at national level, can also be downloaded from Eurostat, based on UNESCO-OECD-Eurostat data collection. Therefore, the ETER database is particularly suitable for analyses of differences between individual institutions (both between and within countries).

See also FAQs on the ETER web page:

Relative size of higher education institutions (the size of the bubble is proportionate to the average number of students by HEI).

Average size of HEIs in most European countries is between
5 000 and 10 000 students.

In 6 countries out of 29, the average size exceeds 10 000 students (ES, IT, NL, SE, UK, MT, which has only one HEI).

Most HEIs in Europe are small (below 3 000 students) but 60% of students are in HEIs with more than 15 000 students.

Private vs. public HEIs

The distinction between public and private refers to the entity having ultimate control of the organisation, following the Eurostat standard.

Private HEIs (including government dependent) account for a third of HEIs, but only for 13% of the total number of students. Their share is much larger in some Member States (CY, CZ, EE).

In BE and NL, many HEIs have private status and control, but are mostly funded by the government.

How old are European higher education institutions?

The chart displays the share of HEIs by foundation year.

Europe has a number of very old HEIs (for example, Bologna founded in 1088). But most are recent: 75% of HEIs were founded after 1945 - particularly private institutions, most of which were founded in the past 30 years.

This reflects the enormous growth of the HE system after 1945 and growing differentiation, with new types of institution emerging (universities of applied sciences, private HEIs).

Subject specialisation of HEIs – broad vs specialised institutions

ETER includes a breakdown of students by the 10 fields of education defined by Eurostat.

European HEIs can be divided into two broad groups for undergraduate study: generalist HEIs comprise 25% of the HEIs, but cover 60% of the students; specialised HEIs about half of the HEIs, but only 15% of the students. Many of them are very specialised schools in fields such as arts, music and theology.

How to download data from the ETER database

To download data from the ETER database take the following steps.

  • Go to the ETER website:

  • On the left-side menu follow “ETER Micro Data”

  • In the search mask, insert the terms you want to search for, like the country code, the HEI name, etc. To retrieve the full dataset, insert year = 2011.

  • When the application provides you with a list of HEIs matching your search criteria, select the tab «Export results/ create reports» above the HEI list

  • Select the data you want to download (for all data choose «Export Full Spreadsheet Public»)

  • Select the file format (XLSX or CSV) and click the download icon.

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