Levels of education

The individual’s educational attainment is a core social background variable in standardised surveys. However, the centrality of this variable contrasts starkly with its often inadequate measurement, especially in the case of migrants and cross-national surveys. Usually, educational attainment is measured by means of a closed question on the highest educational qualification achieved, providing a limited number of fixed response categories containing the most common qualifications in the country of survey, which are harmonised post-hoc. An inconsistent level of detail of response categories across surveys and countries, increasing differentiation of educational systems as well as education and work-related migration however progressively complicate the measurement and harmonisation of educational attainment in surveys. Current practice also does not yet take advantage of the technological opportunities offered by computer assisted interviews, which are becoming increasingly common. 

The aim of the education measurement and coding tool  is to alleviate these problems, based on 1) an international database of educational qualifications and levels (see live search and Excel file for download below), 2) optimised questionnaire instruments and 3) an interface to directly access the database for use in computer-assisted surveys (see live search and CAPI implementation). The tool allows respondents to report their educational attainment relative to the educational system of the country where they completed their education, rather than forcing them to guess the closest equivalent in the country where the survey is conducted. It also provides syntax for harmonisation into the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) and the education coding scheme used in the European Social Survey (ESS) after data collection.

As of August 2019, the education database covers 100 countries, among which nearly all European educational systems, some neighboring countries, and the countries of origin of the largest migrant and current refugee groups in Germany, especially Arabic and African countries. It contains more than 3500 unique educational qualifications. You can download an Excel file of the database here; you can also run a live search in the database online. Every effort has been made to ensure that the list of qualifications and levels of education is as accurate and complete as possible for each country and language. However, users are advised to carry out checks on the database before use. These checks should be conducted for each country/language version for which the database will be used and involve the input of local survey teams wherever possible.

The development of the education tools on surveycodings.org was funded by the Leibniz Association via the Leibniz Competition in the project "Computer-assisted Measurement and Coding of Education in Surveys" (CAMCES) as well as by the SERISS project. It was conducted at GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences between 2013 and 2019.

Further readings:

Braun, M., & Müller, W. (1997). Measurement of education in comparative research. Comparative Social Research, 16, 163–201.

Ortmanns, V., & Schneider, S. L. (2016). Can we assess survey representativeness of cross-national surveys using the education variable? Survey Research Methods, 10(3), 189–210.  

Ortmanns, V., & Schneider, S. L. (2016). Harmonization still failing? Inconsistency of education variables in cross-national public opinion surveys. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 28(4), 562–582.

Schneider, S. L. et al. (2018) Measuring migrants’ educational attainment: the CAMCES tool in the IAB-SOEP Migration Sample, in Behr, D. (ed.) Surveying the migrant population: Consideration of linguistic and cultural issues. Mannheim: GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences (GESIS Schriftenreihe), pp. 43–74.

Schneider, S. L. (2016). The Conceptualisation, Measurement, and Coding of Education in German and Cross-National Surveys. GESIS Survey Guidelines.  

Schneider, S. L. (2009). Confusing Credentials: The Cross-Nationally Comparable Measurement of Educational Attainment. Oxford: University of Oxford, Nuffield College.

Smith, T. W. (1995). Some aspects of measuring education. Social Science Research, 24(3), 215–242.

Relevant materials:

You can download the full database in Excel format as well as the accompanying report here.

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