Measuring education in the ESS and EVS

09/07/19

Lucilla Losi, Angelica Maineri and Ruud Luijkx (European Values Study, Tilburg University) and Silke Schneider and Verena Ortmanns (European Social Survey, GESIS) explain how the measurement of education has been harmonized across the two surveys.

Educational attainment is among the most important background variables in social sciences, but since educational systems are very different, it is also difficult to employ it in cross-national comparisons.

Here, we report about a fruitful cooperation between the European Social Survey (ESS) and the European Values Study (EVS) for the harmonization of educational attainment - made possible through the Horizon 2020 project: Synergies for European Research Infrastructures for the Social Sciences (SERISS).

Usually, in cross-national survey projects, educational attainment is measured through questionnaire items tailored to each country, in order to accommodate countries' specificities in terms of educational systems.

The national item is mapped into an international classification or coding system, which makes it possible to harmonize and then compare educational attainment across different contexts.

One example of harmonized codes is, for instance, ISCED - the International Standard Classification of Education - maintained by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics (UIS).

Preparing the national questionnaire items and the relative harmonization mapping schemes is a burdensome and time-consuming process that, without the employment of common procedures, usually leads to a different result for each country and survey project.

Until now, educational attainment was measured in different ways by ESS and EVS, and different harmonization schemes were employed.

This may also constitute a disadvantage for data users, who have to get acquainted with different educational schemes every time they approach a new dataset.

The official ISCED classification, furthermore, fails to capture some institutional and educational differences in some European countries are not well reflected.

Therefore, each large-scale survey project develops additional project-specific coding schemes and the cross-national comparability of official mappings could be questioned.

Many surveys only implement the main ISCED levels, even though the majority of respondents are placed in just 2-3 of the 9 main levels. A more detailed version would be advisable.

The SERISS project aims at fostering synergies across studies and reducing the existing fragmentation across infrastructures. In this spirit, the preparation of the educational classification for the fifth wave of EVS (that began in 2017 and is still ongoing) has been carried out in close cooperation with the ESS and its experts, in particular Silke Schneider and Verena Ortmanns from GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Mannheim.

This joint effort has had fruitful results for both survey projects. On the one hand, ESS provided EVS with a detailed international coding scheme to harmonize educational attainment, corresponding to the ESS education variable edulvlb with 27 categories, as well as the more concise derived version of ISCED (ES-ISCED, eisced in the ESS) with 7 categories. Both were especially designed for application in social science research.

The detailed coding scheme is closely related to ISCED 2011, but better accommodates some educational differentiations that are highly relevant in European countries (e.g. differentiating general programmes from vocational ones, as well as tracking in lower secondary education in a number of countries). ISCED 2011 and ISCED 1997 can also be derived from the detailed ESS education scheme.

Also comparability with previous waves of EVS is ensured, and a mapping scheme to go from the ESS education scheme to the EVS standard educational scheme will be provided.

On the other hand, since the EVS includes countries that are not covered by the ESS, the implementation of the ESS education scheme in the current wave of EVS allowed us to broaden its geographical scope.

Indeed, as a result of the cooperation, the ESS education scheme is now also available for 10 Eastern European and/or non-EU countries, such as Georgia and Armenia, but also Luxembourg and Malta.

Last but not least, the cooperation between ESS and EVS results in advantages for the data users, who will encounter the same harmonized educational scheme in different datasets.