On 10 November 2011, UNESCO’s General Conference adopted revisions to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED). As steward of the revision process, the UIS was deeply involved in the development of ISCED 2011. The following Questions and Answers highlight substantive changes to the classification system.

What is ISCED?

The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) is the framework used to compare statistics on the education systems of countries worldwide. It is an important tool used to facilitate international comparisons and to benchmark and monitor progress on international education goals. It is used to produce comparable data and indicators that reflect today’s education priorities and policies. ISCED covers all formal and non-formal education programmes  offered at any stage of life. ISCED was first developed by UNESCO in 1976. The classification was updated in 1997, 2011 and 2013. 

ISCED belongs to the United Nations International Family of Economic and Social Classifications and is the global reference classification for assembling, compiling and analysing cross-nationally comparable data on education. As education systems evolve, the framework needs to be updated to ensure that it reflects current structures. The UIS is responsible for the maintenance, updating and revision of ISCED. More about ISCED

What was the process for revising the framework?

In 2007, Member States formally requested that UNESCO revise the framework. In response, the UIS established a technical advisory panel (TAP), which brought together 16 experts on international education policies and statistics. The panel included national statisticians, ministerial experts, representatives of international organizations and education researchers from around the world. The panel undertook a complete review of ISCED 1997 in order to identify the most pressing – and the most feasible – areas for revision. TAP members worked closely with the UIS to develop thematic proposals, which were discussed during a series of expert meetings that were organized in all the major regions by the UIS, OECD and Eurostat.
Based on feedback from the regional discussions, the UIS prepared a draft text that was the subject of a global consultation (June to October 2010). The text was sent to all UNESCO Member States, including ministries of education and national statistical offices, as well as to regional experts and relevant international organizations. Following the consultation the document was further revised and approved by the technical advisory panel.
In November 2011, the proposed revision was approved by the Education Commission of the 36th General Conference of UNESCO. It was formally adopted by Member States on 10 November 2011.

How does the revised framework differ from the previous version? How will these changes affect international education statistics?

ISCED has always been used to classify programmes by levels of education – from pre-primary to the highest levels of tertiary education. Previously, the first level (ISCED 0) encompassed only pre-primary education programmes designed for children from the age of three to the official primary school entrance age. In the new version, this level has been expanded to include an additional sub-category of education programmes designed for children below the age of three. These types of educational programmes for very young children are becoming increasingly important and prevalent. The new provision will make it easier to compare data on this sub-level for the first time.
On the other end of the scale, the classification of tertiary levels of education has changed substantially. The revised ISCED has four levels of tertiary education compared to two categories in the current version. A major reason behind this change was to better reflect the tertiary education structure (Bachelor, Master and Doctorate) that is found around the world but also has been more recently introduced across Europe following the Bologna Process in 1999.
Another significant innovation is the introduction of educational attainment into the framework. For the first time, ISCED will offer a system to classify qualifications into educational attainment levels. This will enable governments to better assess their human capital resources.

When was ISCED 2011 implemented?

The UNESCO General Conference adopted ISCED 2011 in November 2011. Over the following two years, the UIS and its data collection partners (Eurostat and OECD) worked with countries to map their education systems to the new classification and revise data collection instruments accordingly. An operational manual and other training material were also developed. The first international data collections based on the new ISCED were carried out in 2014. Implementation of the new ISCED in household surveys and censuses occurred in 2015.

What are the statistical units of ISCED?

The statistical units of ISCED are the educational programmes and the resulting qualification. These statistical units are classified into a hierarchy of educational levels, based on increasing complexity of educational content.

What are ISCED mappings and where can I find the latest versions?

ISCED mappings are a visual representation of how national programmes of education are classified according to ISCED. They are based on each Member State’s response to the UIS Questionnaire on National Education Programmes. ISCED mappings are validated by the UIS and the respective country before they are made available on the UIS website. They support the transparency of UIS statistics and also help analysts to better understand and interpret the resulting data and indicators in our international education database.

The UIS publishes 2 mappings: one based on ISCED97 and the other on the latest classification, ISCED2011. The most recent ISCED mappings based on ISCED 2011 are added to the site as they become available.

Why can’t I find ISCED mappings for certain countries on the UIS website?

ISCED mappings published on the UIS website must be validated by both the UIS and the respective countries. ISCED mappings are typically created based on a country’s submission of the UIS Questionnaire on National Education Programmes. The UIS reviews the mapping and, if required, discusses with the country the classification of education programmes to the ISCED standard. Therefore, a country’s ISCED mapping may not be on the UIS website because either it is still under review or the relevant information has not been submitted to the Institute.

Are UIS Questionnaires on National Education Programmes submitted every year?

Once the UIS Questionnaire on National Education Programmes has been submitted by a country and has been validated by UIS, the questionnaire does not need to be submitted again, unless there is a change in the education system or new education programmes are introduced. Respondents to the UIS survey are asked to review the latest ISCED submission and mapping each year and to submit a new questionnaire if there are changes.

How can I find the ISCED classification of the degree/qualification that I received from a specific learning institution?

ISCED mappings provide general information about the classification of national education programmes. National mappings include information on the qualifications or degrees that are usually obtained upon successful completion of these programmes. They include the name of the programme and a description of the main qualifications awarded in the national language but they do not list specific learning institutions. It is important to note that ISCED was designed to facilitate the statistical comparison of national education systems at international levels and is not intended as an instrument to assess the equivalence of specific degrees or qualifications obtained in different learning institutions or countries.