Education is a fundamental right because it gives people the chance to live at their full potential
- Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission at the European Education Summit 2022
The European Pillar of Social Rights proclaims everyone’s right to quality and inclusive education, training and lifelong learning. The EU also recognises the importance of education, training and skills development for inclusive growth, long-term competitiveness, and social cohesion across Europe. Yet, Europe continues to face several challenges in this field, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the green and digital transitions. These include, amongst other challenges,:
  • unequal access to quality and inclusive mainstream education and training
  • a high percentage of underachievers in basic and digital skills
  • a shortage of skilled workers
  • discrepancies between demand and supply of skills  
A particular effort to reduce the educational and spatial segregation of marginalised people and having a workforce with the skills that are in demand is crucial for social and territorial equality, economic recovery and ensuring that green and digital transitions are socially fair and just.

To address these challenges (as shown in the video to the right), the European Commission has launched the 2023 European Year of Skills (until 8 May 2024). It represents a collective strategy to:
  • promote education and empower people to upskill,
  • stimulate innovation
  • ensuring quality jobs
  • spotlights EU initiatives and funding opportunities.
The EU institutions and the Member States are actively cooperating in the field of education, training and skills development, including through the European Education Area (EEA) framework, the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027 and the European Skills Agenda. In this context, EU cohesion policy, as the EU’s main investment policy, plays a key role in the implementation the above policy frameworks.
This data story showcases how EU cohesion policy funds, (more specifically the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), the European Regional Development Fund (ERFD) and its European Territorial Cooperation strand (Interreg)) support Member States and regions in their endeavours to ensure equal access to inclusive non-segregated education, training and skills development opportunities, including for marginalised groups. 

1. EUR 33.6 billion to strengthen equal access to inclusive and quality education and training

Education, training and lifelong learning remain a priority in the 2021-2027 period in EU cohesion policy. Overall, EUR 33.6 billion of EU planned allocations have been allocated to measures directly targeting education, training and skills development.
As seen in the pie chart, the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), which is the main EU instrument for investing in people, stands out as the largest contributor with close to three quarters of the total amount. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), as well as its European Territorial Cooperation strand (Interreg funds), also contribute.
The combination and coordination of measures supported by these funds will allow Member States and regions to strengthen their efforts towards more inclusive and quality education and training systems in an integrated manner, as well as support reforms in these areas.
As EU cohesion policy operates under shared management (i.e. under the responsibility of both the Commission and Member States), it is important to highlight that ESF+, ERDF and Interreg also facilitate further public investments in education, training and skills development. With the additional Member State contributions to the budget of EU cohesion policy programmes through co-financing, the total planned direct support for education and training increases to EUR 48.2 billion.
Additional support to this area is planned under other spending categories, e.g.: 
  • social inclusion
  • transformation of the labour market
  • energy efficiency
  • SME support
  • research and innovation
  • ICT solutions
  • climate change adaptations
  • adaptation to change for workers
For this reason, the overarching support to the area of education, training and skills is likely to be even higher, but cannot be fully quantified.
The Just Transition Fund (JTF) also provides support to Member States to reskill and upskill workers, and jobseekers. The support amounts to EUR 3 million. More information on the JTF is available in this data story.
See below how this direct support is distributed per Member States, including the percentage of support towards each relevant intervention category as of the total amount.

2. Cohesion Policy invests in all levels of education, training and in all types of regions 

EU cohesion policy support is present at every step of the education and training pathway, from early childhood education and care to primary, secondary, tertiary and adult education. Member States and regions have the possibility to directly earmark envisaged support to the different education and training levels.
The following graph looks into the how ESF+ and ERDF support has been distributed at the different education and training levels. Additional support targeting the different education and training levels might have been programmed under other spending categories, which means that they are not captured here. Thus, the amounts below are likely to underestimate the total spending per level.  
In 2021-2027, a clear prioritisation of primary and secondary education support can be seen in the bar chart. These measures can enable equal access to education and training and prevent social exclusion of marginalised groups such as Roma, persons with disabilities, and people with migrant or ethnic backgrounds, as well as underachievers, when complemented by desegregation measures that foster the access of marginalised groups to these mainstream education services.
The distribution of EU cohesion policy support per education and training level varies from programme to programme, as Member States and regions prioritise the different education and training levels according to the identified needs.

Member States and regions have programmed EU cohesion policy support for education, training and skills development in all types of regions: more developed, transition, less developed, cross border and outermost and northern sparsely populated regions. This is in line with the overall intention that Cohesion Policy can support all regions and cities.
This pie chart explores how this support (showcasing the share of total EU contribution of Cohesion policy support without the national co-financing) is distributed geographically, using the different available category of regions.
In 2021-2027, almost two thirds of EU planned allocations of EU cohesion policy support are allocated to less developed regions. This is a strong signal that EU cohesion policy addresses territorial disparities in the provision of quality and inclusive education, training and skills development opportunities, especially by supporting regions most in need. Furthermore, it confirms the role of education, training, and skills as essential elements in a region’s development path towards a more inclusive, cohesive and competitive model, to avoid development traps, improve labour market outcomes and eradicate pockets of socioeconomic deprivation.

3. Acquisition of skills is a key tool for human capital development

Skills help people to seize opportunities and drive transformation, helping them to find their place in society. This is vital in a context of continuous change and innovation, especially in the green and digital transitions the EU is undergoing.
On top of the digital transformation, the shift to a climate-neutral society has been changing the skills demanded by the labour market. The current socioeconomic and geopolitical situation has further emphasised the need for upskilling and reskilling of the workforce in support of the job transitions needed to address already relevant labour and skills shortages in the green and digital economy.
How is the EU trying to achieve this goal?
First, active participation in learning activities of the existing labour force is paramount to ensure that skills are constantly updated. Thus, the EU set itself a headline target for adult learning. By 2030, at least 60% of adults will participate in learning activities every year. This is expected to provide an important policy impulse for the promotion of lifelong skills acquisition and the Vocational Education and Training sector, including apprenticeships, which are essential in order to achieve the big transformations that our economies and societies are facing.
At the same time, higher education institutions will play an essential role, providing initial and continuous vocational education and training to develop the high-end skills needed for resilient, inclusive, and sustainable European economies.

4. Closer Snapshot into ESF+, ERDF and Interreg support

How does EU cohesion policy support differ per fund? The ESF+, the ERDF and Interreg funds can each support Member States and regions in education, training and skills development differently. The sections below look into each fund in more detail.

ESF+ support for education, training and skills 

The ESF+ is the European Union’s main instrument for investing in people and supporting the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. As the main contributor to the Policy Objective ‘A more social and inclusive Europe’ (Policy Objective 4), it supports people at all stages of their life, regardless of their age or socioeconomic background.
The ESF+ support to education and training strongly focuses on people, and on how to equip them with the right skills at any stage of their life, also helping them to access education and training. The fund provides support where it is needed, with a focus on vulnerable people, including people with additional needs, and people furthest away from the labour market and society for socio-economic reasons.
ESF+ also supports the green transition through the improvement of education and training systems and by supporting measures that can provide people with the necessary know-how and flexible opportunities for upgrading and acquiring new and different skills, notably for the green economy as well as industrial ecosystems.
During the 2021-2027 programming period, the ESF+ will:
  • invest from early-childhood education until life-long learning, with a focus on most vulnerable people (e.g. by supporting access to trainings for the acquisition of basic school skills, with digital skills being a priority)
  • help modernise Member States’ public employment services (e.g. by improving and expanding digital training, and by developing new learning management approaches)
  • support funding for skills development, anticipation of skills and elimination of skills mismatches (e.g. by helping create new trainings in soft skills for adapting to future work and the training of pedagogical staff, by supporting the rolling out of up-skilling and re-skilling programmes in strategic industries, and by helping to implement the Individual Learning Accounts).
  • support reforms in a broad range of key policy areas to strengthen Europe’s human capital (e.g. by supporting the development of new strategies to enhance lifelong learning, and by increasing employers’ and individuals’ incentives to participate in adult learning)
  • help enhance the recognition and validation of skills, focusing also on migrants and third country nationals (e.g. by developing new diagnostic tools to help valorise the level of competences already acquired and identify areas where skills development needs to be supported, by setting up match-making mechanisms between companies and citizens on the edge of the labour market).
The total ESF+ budget in the 2021-2027 programming period, including from Technical Assitance, is EUR 141.92 billion (of which EUR 95.08 billion is the Union contribution). 31% of this total is allocated to education which will amount to 42.7 billion (total budget).
Of this, the majority is supporting primary and secondary education (EUR 17.2 billion, approximately 40.4% of the total), and adult education (EUR 7.5 billion, approximately 17.2% of the total ESF+ budget allocated to education and skills).
To see the list of key intervention fields used under ESF+ specific objectives (e), (f) and (g) explore the bar chart.
Do you want to know more about support under a particular country or programme? Use the filter icon on the top right corner of the chart, selected the name of the programme in which you would be interested and click apply for the chart to reflect the corresponding data.

ERDF support: much more than education and training infrastructure and equipment

How does ERDF support fit into this picture? In close alignment and coordination with the ESF+, ERDF support to education, training and lifelong learning mainly consists in:
  • building, extending or refurbishing mainstream non-segregated educational facilities
  • equipment (including specialised equipment to address different needs)
  • provision for digital education through access to internet, digital equipment and platforms
  • and measures to strengthen equal access to mainstream non-segregated quality and inclusive services in education, training and lifelong learning at all levels (such as school buses or desegregation measures)
Around EUR 8.4 billion of  EU resources under the ERDF have been allocated to education, training and skills development across many policy objectives. Most of this support has been programmed under the specific objective dedicated to education and training (RSO4.2) under Policy Objective 4 “A more social and inclusive Europe - implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights”.  
Furthermore, Member States and regions have complemented the above-mentioned support with measures that look at the education and training sector in a more holistic manner under the above specific objective, raising the allocated EU contribution under the ERDF to around EUR 5.6 billion.
The following bar chart demonstrates that the ERDF support to specific objective RSO4.2 is complemented by investments in energy efficiency, ICT infrastructure, social inclusion measures and other non-infrastructure support.
As already mentioned, relevant planned interventions can be also found under Policy Objective 1 “A more competitive and smarter Europe” in the framework of smart specialisation strategies and as part of integrated sustainable territorial strategies (urban and non-urban) under Policy Objective 5 “A Europe closer to citizens”. Those allocations can be found using the filters to change the specific objective.
To see the list of key intervention fields used to capture the ERDF support under RSO4.2, explore the bar chart.
Do you want to know more about the support under a particular country or programme? Use the filter icon on the top right corner of the chart, selected the name of the programme in which you would be interested and click apply for the chart to reflect the corresponding data.

Cross-border and, transnational regions also benefit from specific support for education and training

The EU's Interreg programmes are crucial for supporting cooperation among cross-border, transnational, interregional and outermost regions. Through collaboration across borders, regions can exchange knowledge, innovate, and improve education, language skills, and job opportunities and find joint solutions.
To address these challenges and enhance opportunities, Interreg will invest approximately EUR 398 million in the 2021-2027 period to support interventions in education and training. In general, Interreg programmes support:
  • soft measures
  • innovative tools and solutions
  • development of new skills for the twin transition
  • energy efficiency
  • infrastructure upgrading.
For the cross-border regions in particular, these include measures such as joint education schemes, school exchanges and language training to facilitate access to cross-border job opportunities. The objective is to improve the quality and inclusiveness of education and training in the regions involved.
In addition, Interreg funds measures to reduce the legal and administrative obstacles linked to education and training such as the recognition of qualifications, cross-border traineeships, joint diplomas, etc. Through such actions, programmes aim at improving the cooperation between authorities on both sides of the border to have better education and training delivery and in some cases contribute to the implementation of relevant objectives in the respective Macro-regional strategies.
As in the case of ESF+ and ERDF, primary and secondary education will be the first line of investments, followed by adult education. Once again, it shows the importance of these levels of education and training in providing people with the right skills and capacities to find their place in society and in a competitive job market looking for new green and digital skills.
Interreg's support for education, training, and lifelong learning is mainly programmed under Policy Objective 4 "A more social and inclusive Europe." However, investments in the field may also occur under other policy objectives, particularly under Policy Objective 1 “A more competitive and smarter Europe” and Policy Objective 5 “A Europe closer to citizens”. Relevant support is also envisaged under the Interreg-specific Objective “Better Cooperation Governance”, supporting institutional capacity building for public authorities, local stakeholders, civil society and universities. These are computed separately.
To see the list of key intervention fields used under RSO4.2, explore the bar chart.
Do you want to know more about the support under a particular country or programme? Use the filter icon on the top right corner of the chart, selected the name of the programme in which you would be interested and click apply for the chart to reflect the corresponding data.

5. What will be achieved with EU cohesion policy support?

What is the expected impact of Cohesion Policy support for education, training and skills development?
In 2021-2027, the performance of Cohesion Policy support can be measured in terms of output and results, by means of common indicators, for which Member States and regions can set targets for 2029 (and mid-term milestones).
Actions supported under Cohesion Policy will increase the overall number of places available in new or modernised childcare and other educational facilities and increase the numbers of people in education or training. These values are collected through common output indicators relevant to education, training and skills development, which reflect the actions supported.
As a result of these actions, Member States will be able to increase the annual number of pupils making use of the supported facilities, help people to gain qualifications, and capture the effects of the supported actions. The common results indicators relevant to education, training and skills development allow for Member States and regions to quantify such effects.
Nevertheless, Member States and regions also have the possibility to develop their own programme-specific indicators to reflect their particular contexts. Due to their specific nature, these are not included in the data story, as their values cannot be accumulated for all Member States.
See in the bar chart below the outputs and results expected for 2029 based on the relevant common output and result indicators (including the amounts indicated per Member States).
Do you want to know more about the outcomes and results for a particular country? Use the filter icon on the top right corner of the chart, select the name of the Member State in which you would be interested and click apply. The chart should then reflect the relevant data.

6. Examples from supported actions in 2014-2020 and 2021-2027 

Computer at Maritime High School, Zadar

e-Schools project to increase ICT use in Croatia's education system

A REGIOSTARS award winning project, the e-Schools project aims to increase information and communication technology (ICT) use in primary and secondary education in Croatia by providing ICT equipment and educational tools for schools and teachers. This will enhance teachers' professional development, improve the quality of education and increase students' employability. The project was implemented as a pilot in 150 schools all around the country, involving 6000 students and 920 teachers. Between 2019 and 2022, it was extended to a further 700 primary and secondary schools, involving 50% of Croatian schools overall.
Through the provision of equipment and the implementation of soft measures for training and the development of digital skills, this project is an example of the synergy between ERDF and ESF resources.
Total Investment: EUR 40million
EU Contribution: EUR 25.5 million from the ERDF + EUR 8.5 million from the ESF

A new kindergarten in Żory, Poland

After the closure of a local kindergarten, the city of Żory lacked educational spaces for its large and fast-growing population of children. To provide better services to its youngest citizens, the municipality built a new state-of-the-art kindergarten, with a capacity of about 125 children that follows the Montessori method, an approach to early childhood education based on the scientific observations of children. The school is a new centrepiece of a neighbourhood where many young families live, making it easier for parents to achieve a work-life balance and contributing to making the area more attractive.
Total Investment: EUR 1.2 million
EU Contribution: EUR 565 000 from the ERDF
© Juliusz Sokołowski, Wojciech Bęczarski, ArchiDaily
© ddletb

Providing tailor-made support to the most vulnerable young people: the Youthreach Dublin project

Co-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) since its launch in 1988, Ireland’s Youthreach programme is a national scheme that has provided opportunities for several generations of young people aged 15-20 to make a smooth transition from school to work.  The programme currently operates 110 centres across the country. Each centre provides up to two years of integrated education, training, and work experience, offering young people a supportive ‘second chance’ learning environment to gain qualifications and skills, with certifications that allow them to progress to further education or employment.  The success and transformative impact of Youthreach, and its outreach to 14 000 young people during the ESF (2014-2020) operating period, will be continued through funding from the new ESF+ (2021-2027).
Total Investment: EUR 63 million
EU Contribution: EUR 3.6 million from the ESF

Strengthening digital skills among Danish SMEs

The pandemic has had a significant impact on Danish tourism. Technology is an essential factor in the attraction’s recovery and transition. The 'Digital Leadership Culture' project aims to strengthen the digital competences of managers and key employees in 420 Danish Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). With this new expertise, businesses are better able to safeguard their long-term survival. The system enables senior management and owners in small businesses to upskill in digital technology and marketing.
Total Investment: EUR 9.4 million
EU Contribution: EUR 5 million from the ESF+

© Danish Business Authority

For entrepreneurial culture and sustainable entrepreneurship in education

This project develops education in entrepreneurship. It does so by building networks of schools and promoting an entrepreneurial culture, sustainable entrepreneurship, and cross-border collaboration. Students gain the ability to discover, create, and utilise entrepreneurial opportunities to build sustainable societies, while teachers can improve their knowledge and capacities to integrate sustainability into their work. Schools can strengthen the level of entrepreneurship education and create valuable international connections. By contributing to Specific Objective 3, the project also allows different organisations working in sustainable entrepreneurship to get involved in the education system.
Total investment: EUR 1.09 million
EU Contribution: EUR 700 000 from the ERDF (Interreg VI- 2021-2027 Interreg Sweden-Finland-Norway)

7. Further information sources

For more information on the EU strategic framework and recent developments at EU level, see
For additional resources on quality investments in education and training, see
For more information on Cohesion Policy supported projects, see:
Find out more about #CohesionOpenData  Website Blog FAQ User Guide - Browse other data stories 
Data of Text: July, 2023