European Youth Portal
Information and opportunities for young people across Europe.

How European education systems work

Student life
© -Tuala Hjarnø
Curious about how schools and universities work in other countries?

School education

Most European students spend at least 9 or 10 years in school. As the length of compulsory education differs from country to country, so does the age when children begin school – though it's usually between 5 and 6 years old.


European systems aim to be broad-based and general, giving pupils the basic knowledge and skills  they'll need for the future. Though each EU country is responsible for its own system, and what is taught, national efforts to improve quality are supported by the European Commission.


In Denmark, education is compulsory between the ages of six and sixteen. Compulsory education consists of ten years of primary and lower secondary education (grundskole), including one pre-school year (grade 0) and years (grades) 1 – 9. Public school education also offers the pupils an optional year (grade) 10.


Upper secondary education programmes, also referred to as youth education programmes, can be divided into:

  • General upper secondary education programmes, which primarily prepare for higher education:
    – The 3-year Upper Secondary School Leaving Examination (STX)
    – The 3-year Higher Commercial Examination (HHX)
    – The 3-year Higher Technical Examination (HTX)
    – The 2-year Higher Preparatory Examination (HF)
  • Vocational upper secondary education and training (VET) programmes, which primarily prepare for a career in a specific trade or industry. The duration of VET programmes is normally 3-4 years but may vary between 1½ and 5½ years.


Higher education

Europe has some 4,000 higher education institutions, with over 19 million students and 1.5 million staff. Year after year, European universities rank prominently among the top 100 in the world. Yet tuition fees are generally very reasonable.

Thanks to the smooth transferability of coursework, qualifications and research opportunities between European universities, it is now easier than ever to spend time studying abroad, or to go and use your degree to work in another country.

Public higher education institutions in Denmark are regulated by national legislation concerning degree structures, teacher qualifications and examinations. All programmes are accredited by national, independent accreditation agencies and the Accreditation Council.

Higher education is offered by four types of higher education institutions:
1. Academies of Professional Higher Education (Erhvervsakademi) offering professionally oriented first cycle degree programmes.
2. University Colleges (Professionshøjskole) offering professionally oriented first cycle degree programmes.
3. Research universities (Universitet) offering first, second and third cycle degree programmes in all academic disciplines.
4. University level institutions offering first, second and third cycle degree programmes in subject fields such as architecture, design, music and fine and performing arts.


Most of the higher education institutions are regulated by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education. (types1-4). The Ministry of Culture regulates a small number of higher education institutions offering first, second and third cycle degree programmes in fine and performing arts (type 4).


Vocational education & training

This gives you the skills you need to compete in today’s global jobs market. Apprenticeship-style education like this is usually related to a specific trade or career path, and combines practical work experience with theoretical study. It can take place at the secondary, post-secondary or further education level, but it is not equivalent to higher education.

See more about Danish Vocational upper secondary education and training programmes in the section above.


According to the latest data from Eurostat, there are more than 93 million pupils and students enrolled in all levels of education, from primary education to postgraduate studies.