Levels of education

NOTE: this is preliminary information. The demo questionnaire and database live search are still under development.

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 , 2) optimised questionnaire instruments  and 3) an interface  to directly access the database for use in computer-assisted surveys. The tool allows respondents to report their educational attainment in their own words and relative to the educational system of the country where they completed their education, rather than forcing them to choose from a limited number of response categories or 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)  after data collection. For detailed information, please check the module documentation.

As of October 2017, the education database covers nearly all European educational systems, some neighboring countries, and the countries of origin of the largest migrant and current refugee groups in Germany. It contains nearly 2100 unique educational qualifications and more than 1000 alternative expressions. You can download an Excel file of the database here; you can also run a live search in the database online.

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) and conducted at GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences between 2013 to 2016.

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.