copy the linklink copied!1. Overview: Unlocking the potential of migrants through vocational education and training in Germany

This chapter gives an overview of the study, and highlights how the recent inflow of migrants can represent both challenges and opportunities for Germany. The chapter further outlines the situation of the apprenticeship market in Germany, discussing supply and demand issues, regional and occupational mismatches and future labour market needs for vocational education and training (VET) occupations. It then provides a short overview of the asylum system in Germany and describes the educational background and aspirations of both recently arrived asylum seekers and refugees, as well as natives with immigrant parents, and their entry into the VET system. Further, the chapter sums up key strengths and challenges that Germany is facing in using VET to integrate migrants, and concludes with listing the policy pointers that are identified in the report.


copy the linklink copied!About the project: Unlocking the potential of migrants through vocational education and training1

The recent inflow of migrants represent a significant challenge for German society, but also major opportunities

Many European countries experienced a high influx of people seeking protection within a short time period in 2015 and 2016. Within these two years, Germany received 1.5 million asylum seekers. Although the arrival of asylum seekers was especially high in 2015 and early 2016 many asylum requests were only filed at a later stage. In 2017, Germany had the second highest number of asylum applications within the OECD area (OECD, 2018[1]). Many of these recent arrivals are young, have weak basic skills, limited professional skills and lack language skills, as well as formal qualifications valued by the German labour market. One of the key challenges that the German authorities are now addressing and will need to address over the coming years is how to integrate those asylum seekers who obtain international protection or otherwise change their status so that they can remain in Germany effectively into society and secure a strong connection to the labour market.

International evidence shows that vocational education and training (VET) and especially work-based learning through apprenticeships can represent a particularly effective pathway towards stable and high quality employment for vulnerable youths (Kis, 2016[2]). Germany has a strong VET system based on apprenticeship. The system has been generally highly regarded with VET graduates enjoying high employability rates. Previous research has shown, moreover, that the added value of VET in finding employment is particularly strong for natives with immigrant parents in Germany (OECD, 2007[3]). In this regard, VET can be a means of upskilling migrants, many of whom currently are limited to low skilled positions in the labour market. Education and training to access skilled employment can serve to both unlock the potential of migrants and address significant skills shortages within the German labour market. Indeed, by helping migrants to develop social relations while developing skills of demonstrable demand within the labour market, VET offers an attractive means of facilitating the integration of migrants within German society and economy.

There are, however, significant obstacles that stand in the way of achieving a VET qualification. For humanitarian migrants, these obstacles are routinely substantial. Evidence suggests that at every step along the journey from first awareness to successful entry into employment after completion of VET qualifications, migrants struggle to maintain the same progression rates as natives, even when enjoying the same level of academic proficiency. This report analyses these challenges and produces new insights about how VET systems can better help integrate migrants, with a focus on refugees. Drawing on German and international experience, the report sets out policy options that can help vocational education and training systems play a stronger and more effective role in the integration of migrants.

This review of Germany is part of a broader OECD study that focuses on how VET systems can effectively integrate migrants. The overall study composes cross-country analytical work presented in a separate report, as well as a deep dive into German specific challenges in this report (Box 1.1). The work focuses on two prime target groups that could benefit strongly from better access to vocational education and training: humanitarian migrants as well as young natives with immigrant parents. For both groups, this study focusses on the age group of 16-35 year-olds. The study focuses primarily on upper secondary VET provision and most notably the dual apprenticeship system.

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Box 1.1. OECD study: Unlocking the potential of migrants through VET

The project Unlocking the Potential of Migrants through VET explores the challenges and opportunities presented to VET systems by migrants, and in particular humanitarian migrants who arrived in OECD countries in recent years. It provides insights into how VET systems can adapt to more successfully integrate migrants into their host countries, so as to achieve better outcomes for both migrants and for societies as a whole. The project is divided in two parts: a review of VET in Germany and a cross-country review (Jeon, 2019[4]).

The review of Germany draws on international and national data alongside consideration of research literature, and three field visits to Germany, where an OECD team met with key representatives from authorities and stakeholders. Visits took place in North Rhine Westphalia in November and December 2017, Berlin and Brandenburg in May 2018 and Bavaria in September 2018. In addition, the OECD organised an international workshop in Bremen in March 2018 focusing on German experiences. The work is sponsored by the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF).

A cross-country study (Jeon, 2019[4]) draws on national experiences across OECD countries with focuses particularly on Germany, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland. Many other OECD countries provided responses through a questionnaire that the OECD review team circulated in 2018 through the OECD Group of National Experts on Vocational Education and Training. Governments shared information on policy challenges, solutions and innovative approaches regarding migrant integration through VET. The European Commission and Switzerland sponsored this cross-country project.

This study intends to serve as a useful tool for policy makers in the countries affected by the recent and long-term increases in migrants.

Source: Jeon, S. (2019[4]), Unlocking the Potential of Migrants: Cross-country Analysis, OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training,

The youth cohort is getting more diverse

Migration to Germany is far from being a new phenomenon. It has been on the rise for a number of years, and while this mirrors an overall trend across OECD countries, the increase has been particularly steep for Germany. In 2016, Germany registered around 1 million new permanent migrant entries, which constituted a 50% increase compared to 2015. The increase was largely due to the high number of asylum seekers who entered Germany in 2015 and who received international protection in 2016.

Between 2015 and 2017, close to 1.4 million people applied for asylum in Germany, and in the same time period around 840 000 people received some form of humanitarian protection, (see Glossary). The inflow of asylum seekers decreased strongly in 2017 to around 187 000 persons entering Germany with the intent of claiming asylum. For 2018, this number further decreased to 162 000. Over half of all the asylum seekers who arrived in this time period were between 16 and 34 years old (Table 1.1), with many more less than 16 years old.

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Table 1.1. Age structure of 16-35 year-olds who received protection, 2015-2017





16-18 years old

11 120

42 393

20 471

18-25 years old

37 385

169 853

109 672

25-30 years old

22 525

101 560

67 258

30-35 years old

17 105

69 449

46 698

Source: Adapted from BAMF (2017[5])Aktuelle Zahlen zu Asyl;

BAMF (2016[6])Aktuelle Zahlen zu Asyl;

BAMF (2015[7]), Bundesamt in Zahlen,


The share of people in Germany with a migration background, i.e. having at least one foreign-born parent, has increased steadily: in 2016, this was the case for 23% of the population, compared to 19% in 2011. Among children aged 5 or younger, this share increases to 38%. The classrooms of Germany have become increasingly diverse. The trend is seen across the OECD. Analysis of OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data show that in 2015, almost one in four 15-year-old students in OECD and European Union (EU) countries reported that they were either foreign-born or had at least one foreign-born parent. The share of students with a migrant background in PISA has increased between 2006 and 2015 by 6.44 percentage points (OECD average). The youth cohort is expected to become still more diverse (OECD, 2018[8]). Evidence to date, however, suggests that young people from migrant backgrounds face difficulties in Germany to enter into upper secondary VET.

As the proportion of young people with migrant backgrounds has grown in Germany, so too has concern over the efficacy of the German education system in enabling smooth access to the labour market. PISA data show that natives with one or both parents who are foreign-born, for example, have consistently performed worse than young people with native-born parents on literacy and numeracy tests (OECD, 2018[8]). Evidence to date, moreover, suggests that young people with migrant parents have struggled to progress into upper secondary VET, notably apprenticeship, given the additional barriers commonly faced by migrant youth in terms of human capital accumulation (academic and language proficiencies), social networks linked to, and country-specific knowledge of German’s VET system. The migrant population is, however, highly heterogeneous, with recent arrivals, for instance, possessing different skills, as well as professional and educational backgrounds. This diversity makes it challenging for countries to effectively devise policy which is able to respond to individual needs and capabilities. A “one-size-fits-all” approach is unlikely to succeed (OECD, 2016[9]). This poses new challenges to the VET system on how to accommodate different needs, to address barriers preventing participation and to ensure equality of opportunity for new arrivals as well as natives with immigrant parents.

Germany’s population is ageing rapidly

The population of many OECD countries is expected to age rapidly in coming decades. The share of the population above 65 years is expected to double from 1990 to 2050, and the trend is especially visible in Germany (Figure 1.1) (Colombo et al., 2011[10]; OECD, 2017[11]).

One result is a shrinking working-age population. Not only will this lead to higher age-related costs in the future, but with it comes implications for continuing economic growth (Colombo et al., 2011[10]). Especially in countries like Germany, where the pace of ageing is high and ageing is setting in earlier than in most other OECD economies, it is anticipated that population ageing will lead to a substantial decline in the number of people in employment, affecting GDP per capita and a rise in demand for health-related public services. If current trends persist, OECD projections show that the total population of Germany will decline by 14.9 million (18%) by 2060 and the working age population will contract by 28%. These projections assume net immigration to be 200 000 by 2021, which is above the historic average (OECD, 2016[12]). By 2040, a shortage of 3.9 million workers is expected, split between demand for 2.7 million workers with VET qualifications and 1.2 million university graduates (vbw, 2016[13]). One survey of German employers has indicated that shortages in demand are already commonplace with a third of apprenticeships being unfilled (2017: 34%) (DIHK, 2018[14]).

Population ageing may also exacerbate skill shortages that could limit the scope to which Germany can exploit new technologies, thereby constraining productivity growth. Skill shortages can also widen income inequality, given that skilled-biased technological changes are a major driver of the polarisation of household incomes (OECD, 2016[12]).

Immigration, however, can delay the impact of demographic ageing on labour supply by changing the age structure of the population. Because migrants, on average, are younger than the native population2 and emigrants are older than immigrants, the proportion of young people will increase and a so-called “rejuvenating effect” can be expected. Immigration will boost the working-age population, increase the supply of skills and fill important niches in fast-growing and declining sectors of the economy underpinning economic growth (OECD, 2019[15]). In this way, the many migrants arriving in Germany in recent years represent a significant opportunity. Such an opportunity, however, can only be realised if migrants possess or develop the skills demanded within the labour market.

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Figure 1.1. Percentage of population aged 65+
Figure 1.1. Percentage of population aged 65+

Note: The data post-2015 are forecasts.

Source: Adapted from United Nations (2017[16]), World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division


copy the linklink copied!The German upper secondary VET system and the apprenticeship market

The German upper secondary VET system

Education policy in Germany lies within the competences of the governments of the federal states (Länder). VET represents a very important element of secondary education. The main part of upper secondary VET follows a dual apprenticeship model, characterised by the combination of two learning venues: school-based and work-based learning with an employer. The training usually lasts three years. Employers are make their own decisions in recruiting apprentices. Whilst there are no formal entry requirements, employers set certain standards of German language and academic qualification as prerequisites for entry. In addition, school-based provision exists which can differ in duration, type of qualification and access. The system is based on a close co-operation between the authorities, employers and VET schools. The federal government is responsible for the work-based training, while the regional authorities (the Länder) are responsible for the school-based training (Cedefop, 2016[17]). While access to apprenticeships in Germany does not require any school certification and also does not have an age limit, in practice those without formal qualifications face difficulties in finding apprenticeships as most employers expect educational qualifications and often prefer candidates with an intermediary educational level (Mittlerer Schulabschluss) rather than lower secondary diploma (Hauptschulabschluss).

Each year, about a million teenagers leave lower-secondary education to start a VET programme at age 15 or 16, including transitional programmes (Box 1.2). Roughly half of them start a dual apprenticeship, while a quarter attend a school-based programme (Figure 1.2). Within school-based VET, about four out of five students are trained for a health, education or social occupations. Moreover, about half a million school-leavers enrol in school programme that leads to a university entrance qualification, mainly general education (usually Abitur or Fachabitur), but also vocational programmes (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung, 2018[18]).

For the 13.6%3 of young people in 2018 who did not continue with upper secondary schooling or do not manage to find an apprenticeship, the German education system makes available measures designed explicitly to prepare students for entering VET. This is known as the transition system (Übergangsbereich). The German transition system can be characterised as an intermediary period between general education and VET or employment. In 2018, around 200 000 students entered the transition system of which 34% were foreign nationals, compared to only 14% in 2005 (Figure 1.2). The transition system is thus an integral component of the German education system; as a comparison, in the same year around 716 000 started dual or school-based VET. Box 1.2 provides a snapshot of Germany`s VET system.

After decreasing during the nineties, both the total number and share of foreign nationals in VET has increased during past years: In 2014, 37 575 or 7.8% of new dual apprentices were foreign nationals; by 2018 this figure had grown to about 12% (Figure 1.2). At the same time, foreign nationals are strongly overrepresented within the transition system. The actual share in 2017 is even larger than that given above (34%), since many new arrivals attend newly created preparatory programmes which are not captured in the statistics set out at Table 1.1 (BMBF, 2018[19]). The large number of foreign nationals in the transitional system thus drives up the overall share of foreign nationals in the VET system to 18%, while amongst students pursuing a university entrance qualification, only 6% are foreign nationals. Among foreign nationals within the VET system, 36% are females. Young women are overrepresented in the school-based system.

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Box 1.2. A snapshot of Germany`s VET system

Compulsory education starts at the age of six in Germany. Depending on the regional authorities (Länder) it lasts for nine or ten years. After the first four or six years in primary school, the lower secondary level is divided into educational paths according to the ultimate qualification provided. Schools can either provide one type of qualification or more (up to three). Three types of school have been historically available: Gymnasium, Realschule and Hauptschule, but many Länder have abolished the Hauptschule and Realschule, which provided students with less demanding and more vocationally oriented content [read more on the lower secondary structure in (KMK, 2015[20])].

Graduates from the lower secondary level generally enrol in a vocational pathway (including the transition system) at age 15 or 16. However, with a certain qualification they may attend a general school to obtain the Abitur (general higher education entrance qualification).

Students in vocational pathways enrol either in the dual system or in a full-time VET school which might offer an internship within a programme lasting for two to three years. As well vocational qualifications, some VET schools offer students the option of achieving a school leaving certificate. Fachschulen (trade and technical schools) offer tertiary-B level programmes that last for two years (full-time) to four years (part-time) while Fachhochschulen provide tertiary-A level vocationally orientated programmes. Additionally, some Länder offer VET programmes at tertiary-A level which combine teaching in schools and training in companies. For those who have difficulties, Germany has various programmes designed to facilitate transition into VET (Übergangsbereich). During a basic vocational or pre-vocational year (Berufsgrundbildungsjahr or Berufsvorbereitungsjahr) students receive career guidance and acquire basic vocational skills designed to help them either obtain an apprenticeship, or to enter a full-time school-based VET programme or to start working but without receiving a full qualification. Institutionally diverse, these transition courses can be taught in vocational schools (Berufsschule or Berufsfachschule) or in private institutions and firms.

Source: Hoeckel, K. and R. Schwartz (2010[21]), OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training: A Learning for Jobs Review of Germany 2010,; KMK (2015[20]), The Education System in the Federal Republic of Germany 2015/2016. A Description of the Responsibilities, Structures and Developments in Education Policy for the Exchange of Information in Europe,

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Figure 1.2. Share of new entrants in VET in recent years
New entrants by programme orientation and type, 2015-18
Figure 1.2. Share of new entrants in VET in recent years

Note: School-based VET includes both, federal- and state-law qualifications. University entrance qualifications include general education and vocational baccalaureates (Fachoberschulen, Fachgymnasien, Berufsfachschulen, allgemeinbildende Schulen).

Source: Adapted from DESTATIS (2019[22]), Die integrierte Ausbildungsberichterstattung (iABE) (database),


Dual apprenticeships

In contrast to school-based education, dual VET is market-based. School-leavers interested in attending dual VET first look for a suitable employer offering apprenticeship places in the desired occupation, and then apply for the apprenticeship. Employers evaluate all applications and choose – as in typical recruitment processes within the labour market – the most promising candidate. Therefore, skills and formal qualifications, including school grades, play a crucial role in whether applicants are accepted. Popular occupations and employers attract higher performing students, whereas those with lower skills have to settle for less popular positions. As a consequence, which candidates will find what type of apprenticeship depends strongly on supply and demand. At the same time, the market-based approach makes sure that students are not trained in occupations where there is no demand for labour.

Demand and supply for apprenticeships

The Federal Institute for VET (BIBB, 2018[23]) provides yearly statistics on supply and demand in the dual apprenticeship market. Contrary to the common notation in labour economics, supply (of VET) denotes in German statistics the numbers of apprenticeship places offered by employers, whereas the demand (for VET) denotes school-leavers who want to attend an apprenticeship. Table 1.2 shows these figures for apprenticeships.

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Table 1.2. Trends in the German apprenticeship market











New apprenticeship contracts

559 960

569 390

551 258

529 542

523 201

522 161

520 272

523 290

531 413

Unfilled placements

19 898

30 487

34 075

34 720

38 449

41 678

43 561

48 984

57 656

Unsuccessful applicants

12 033

11 366

15 673

21 087

20 932

20 781

20 550

23 712

24 540

Supply of apprenticeship placements

579 858

599 867

585 333

564 262

561 650

563 839

563 833

572 274

589 069

Demand of apprenticeship placements

571 993

580 746

566 931

544 133

544 133

542 943

540 822

547 002

555 953

Supply/demand ratio










Note: Supply is the number of new apprenticeships at the 30 September 2018 census date plus those who remain vacant. Demand is the number of new apprenticeships on 30th September plus unsuccessful applicants who keep searching an apprenticeship. VET-interested school-leavers are those who either signed an apprenticeships-contract or are at least registered as VET applicants at the PES.

Source: Adapted from BIBB (2018[23]), Datenreport zum Berufsbildungsbericht 2018, Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung.


The supply of apprenticeships has remained fairly stable in recent years. There are two types of dual apprenticeships: firm-based VET (betrieblich), and non-firm apprenticeships at publicly funded training centres (außerbetrieblich). The latter is funded by the Länder. Both share and number of non-firm apprenticeships declined from around 40 000 (or 7%) in 2010 to less than 15 000 (or 2.5%) in 2018 while demand from firms has grown.

The demand for apprenticeship places is larger than the supply, but decreased in recent years, mainly due to decreasing youth cohort sizes, but also due to a shift of the preferences towards general education programmes. Reflecting growing migration inflows, however, the demand increased in 2017 for the first time since 2011.

Matching demand (apprentices) and supply (employers)

While decreasing demand has relaxed the situation for some school-leavers who could not find a suitable apprenticeship place, many still struggle to do so. The number of unsuccessful applicants has remained stable at around roughly 80 000. Furthermore, about 270 000 students are in the transitional system, largely because they could not find an apprenticeship. There is a mismatch between supply and demand observable in Germany (BIBB, 2019[24]). Data show that the reasons for this mismatch are at least threefold:

  • Mismatch in terms of regions: Both the share of unsuccessful applicants and the share of vacant positions differ considerably between regions. For instance, less than 5% of all applicants are unsuccessful in Eastern Bavaria, while this share is over 20% in some central and northern regions.

  • Mismatch in terms of occupations: For some occupations, such as designers, animal keepers, or computer specialists, there are far more interested school-leavers than available employers. On the other hand, firms in other occupations often have severe difficulties in finding skilled and motivated candidates.

  • Mismatch in terms of skills: An increasing number of apprentices have a university entrance qualification [in 2010: 21%, in 2016 28.7%, (BIBB, 2018[23])]. Consequently, it is increasingly difficult for graduates of the basic track at the lower secondary level (Hauptschulabschluss) to find apprenticeships.

copy the linklink copied!Immigrant youth in the German apprenticeship market

This section looks into the characteristics of immigrant youth in the German apprenticeship market.

Asylum seekers and refugees

Between 2015 and 2017, around half of all asylum seekers were between 16 and 34 years old, lodging some 715 000 first-time applications. Around three-quarters of this age group were men. Overall in this time period, around one in three asylum seekers (all ages) came from the Syrian Arab Republic (hereafter ‘Syria’), followed by applicants from Afghanistan (13%) and Iraq (11%). Asylum seekers from Syria, Eritrea and Iraq have had the highest recognition rate among the main countries of origin (Table 1.3). For Afghan applicants, however, who constituted the second largest group, recognition rates are considerably lower, with around half receiving some form of humanitarian protection. While applicants from Kosovo and Albania constituted large groups in 2015, numbers declined considerably in 2016 and fell below 4 000 for Albanian applicants and 1 500 for applicants from Kosovo in 2017.

In 2016, the average length of an asylum application was seven months from lodging an application to receiving a decision. When the waiting time between arrival and having an appointment with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) is added, on average it takes around 13 months.

In 2017, the BAMF needed around 11 months on average to determine asylum. This partly reflects that with a lower number of new asylum requests in 2017, the office is increasingly working on more complex cases where status determination takes more time. On average, receiving a first appointment took four months, which brings the total waiting time between arrival in the country and asylum decision to 15 months (Deutsche Bundesregierung, 2018[25]).

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Table 1.3. Decisions on asylum claims, by main countries of origin, 2015-17


Number of decisions

Recognition rate

According to legal status:

Not admissible





Refugee status

Subsidiary protection





500 200








54 200








157 100








27 700







Islamic Republic of Iran

44 900








189 700








28 200







Russian Federation

35 100








35 500








53 700








83 200







Note: Cases are categorised as not admissible if another country is responsible for handling the asylum claim or if cases have been withdrawn by the applicant. Decisions include both first-time and repeated applications. Around 75% of the asylum seekers were younger than 30 years old.

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244/99 and the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on Kosovo’s declaration of independence.

Source: Adapted from BAMF (2017[5]), Zahlen zu Asyl,


Dispersal and settlement policies for asylum seekers and refugees in Germany

Germany uses a distribution “key” that disperses asylum seekers across its different regional states (Länder), taking into account the population size and tax revenue of each region. In 2017, most asylum seekers were hosted in North-Rhine Westphalia, followed by Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. Together, these three states hosted around 50% of all asylum seekers in 2017.

On a regional level, it is up to the regional government how to disperse asylum seekers across municipalities. These regional dispersal mechanisms mostly consider municipalities’ population size. Thus, usually local labour market conditions, such as unemployment rates or specific skills needs, are not considered.

Once asylum seekers receive refugee status they are required to live in the region to which they were allocated for three years. This is a recent policy change in 2016 with the aim of reducing secondary migration to regions that are (perceived as) more attractive and to facilitate planning for municipalities. This policy change leaves it up to the regional government to decide whether they want to restrict freedom of settlement within the region even further, e.g. requiring refugees to remain in the municipality or county to which they were allocated. As of June 2018, seven states out of 16 have implemented further restrictions, including North-Rhine Westphalia, Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg and Hessen.

Settlement restrictions can be lifted when refugees have found a job or apprenticeship elsewhere or when they are accepted into university. In addition, a move can be granted for joining family members and exceptions can be made in particular cases of hardship. Refugees have to request a permission to move from the local Foreigners’ Office, which decides whether one of the exceptional conditions applies. Where permission to move is granted the immigration authorities in the receiving municipality also have to agree.

However, given the decentralised nature of decision making in local immigration authorities, there is no data available on how often permissions are actually granted. Thus, there is currently no way of assessing to what extent mobility for work and education-related purposes is occurring in practice. Anecdotal evidence, however, shows that practices of local Immigration Authorities can differ widely, depending on the state and how widely local officials used their margin of discretion when deciding on individual cases.

The educational background of young asylum seekers and refugees

Much of the public debate and policy attention has focused on the educational background of new arrivals as an indication of their chances of ultimately succeeding in the German labour market and education system. Particularly for young refugee adults, continuing education or participating in upskilling measures that build on previous educational achievement and work experience is critical to facilitate their transition into stable employment.

Data from asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 indicate that the 18-34 age group has somewhat higher educational backgrounds than older asylum seekers, but data also show that educational attainment is highly varied, with a high proportion of asylum seekers possessing only primary education or no formal education at all (Table 1.4).

To arrive at an estimate of the educational background of prospective refugees, data was weighted according to the recognition rate of asylum seekers’ country of origin. Weighted averages indicate that close to 50% have attended upper secondary school or university in the 18-24 age group. At the same time, around 20% have had no formal education at all or had only attended primary school.

However, these data should be interpreted with caution, as categories are broad and refer to attendance rather than completion of qualifications. Furthermore, the quality of education obtained is unlikely to be comparable to the German system. Measuring migrants’ skills levels can therefore be necessary to get a clearer picture of the asylum seekers actual educational background.

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Table 1.4. Educational background of asylum seekers, 2015
Averages and weighted averages according to recognition rates, in percentages



“Weighted average” according to recognition rates








No formal education or primary school







Lower secondary school







Upper secondary school or university







Note: Weighted averages take into account differences in recognition rates per country and therefore present an estimate of the educational background of persons based on their likelihood to receive refugee status.

Source: Adapted from Brücker (2016[26]), Typisierung von Flüchtlingsgruppen nach Alter und Bildungsstand,


Educational aspirations

Educational aspirations among asylum seekers and refugees vary by age and gender. Survey data show that young asylum seekers and refugees generally have high educational aspirations (Romiti et al., 2016[27]).4 Among the 18-25 year-olds, 84% indicate that they probably or certainly want to continue their education in order to receive a vocational qualification. Of these, around 40% would like to obtain a university degree. With increasing age, the wish to continue education declines; among 26-35 year-olds, the share decreases to 69% and further drops to 41% among those 36 and older.

Women’s educational aspirations are slightly lower. Around 60% of all female respondents declared that they would want to obtain a professional qualification, compared to 69% of all male respondents. Lower educational aspirations compared to men are correlated with having children (Romiti et al., 2016[27]).

While educational aspiration among young asylum seekers and refugees is high, this should not be equated with actual educational decisions; starting VET is an effective financial investment that many asylum seeker and refugees may not be willing or able to make, particularly if they have to support family members.

Different scenarios were developed that take into account the recognition rates for 12-25 year-old asylum applicants, their educational aspirations, and different estimates for the preparatory time needed before entering VET [see (Winnige, Maier and Steeg, 2017[28]) for a description of the methodology]. Demand for VET is estimated to grow steadily. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of asylum seekers and refugees applying for apprenticeships increased by almost 45% from around 26 500 to 38 300. (Matthes et al., 2019[29]).

Legal frameworks for accessing VET and VET-related support measures

For refugees, there are no legal barriers preventing participation in vocational education (whether school-based or apprenticeships), internships or VET-specific support measures. However, restrictions apply for asylum seekers and persons with a toleration status. With the exception of school-based VET, local immigration authorities have to give permission on a case-by-case basis. In general, asylum seekers from so-called “safe countries of origin” (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal and Serbia) are not allowed to start VET or an internship as they are less likely to be granted asylum. All other asylum seekers can start VET and internships after having been in the country for three months. For persons who have received a toleration status there is no waiting period. Persons with a toleration status may not be permitted to pursue an economic activity like apprenticeship under certain circumstances related to the veracity of personal information supplied to the German authorities. The Public Employment Service (PES), which would have to grant permission for taking up employment, does not have to be consulted for VET or for internships that do not last longer than three months (Table 1.5).

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Table 1.5. Access to VET, preparatory traineeships and internships for asylum seekers and persons with toleration status


Immigration authorities

Employment agency

Dual VET

Has to give permission

Not involved

School-based VET

Not involved

Not involved

Introductory training (Einstiegsqualifizierung, EQ), 6-12 months

Has to give permission

Financed and granted by employment agency

Internships with a maximum duration of 3 months

Has to give permission

Not involved

Internships with a duration of more than 3 months

Has to give permission

As a rule: has to give permission

Note: As of June 2018.

There is a range of VET-specific measures that seek to prepare students who need additional support before starting VET as well as programmes that support students during their apprenticeships. While this provision is generally accessible for refugee VET students, for asylum seekers it depends on their country of origin. In addition, waiting periods apply (Table 1.7).

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Table 1.6. Access to VET-related support measures for asylum seekers and persons with a toleration status


Asylum seekers from Eritrea, Iraq, Islamic Republic of Iran, Somalia and Syria

Asylum seekers from other origin countries

Persons with toleration status

bH (ausbildungsbegleitende Hilfen) – training related assistance

yes, after 3 months


yes, after 12 months

AsA (Assistierte Ausbildung) – assisted vocational training

yes, after 3 months


yes, after 12 months

BAB (Berufsausbildungsbeihilfe) - financial support during VET or VET-related support measures

yes, after 15 months


yes, after 15 months

BerEb (Berufseinstiegsbegleitung) - career entry support By mentoring programme (+ first 6 months during VET)




BvB (Berufsvorbereitende Bildungsmaßnahmen) - pre-vocational training measures

yes, after 3 months


yes, after 6 years

Note: As of June 2018.

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Box 1.3. Compulsory education and access to mainstream education programmes

Education policy in Germany is the responsibility of the Länder. Compulsory education starts at the age of 5 or 6 and usually lasts for 12 years until pupils turn 18. For young people who do not continue with upper secondary school or do not manage to find an apprenticeship, the German education system offers transition years that seek to prepare students for entering VET.

As a reaction to the high numbers of recently arrived refugees, most German Länder have developed specific preparatory VET classes for young migrants that last one to two years and usually combine language courses and skills training with vocational orientation and possibilities for internships (Braun and Lex, 2016[30]). However, at the age of 18, education is no longer compulsory, regardless of whether students have obtained a school-leaving certificate or not.

Some Länder have extended compulsory education, while others have opened their educational programmes up to people who are no longer subject to compulsory education. In Bavaria, for instance, vocational schools offer specific classes for refugees up to the age of 21, and in exceptional cases up until 25. Generally, however, those aged 18 and above have access provision through adult education centres, offering for instance evening classes, to obtain a school leaving certificate. To what extent such adult education programmes are used by adult refugees who want to continue their education and whether these courses can cater to specific needs, for instance by offering additional language support, remains an open question.

Source: Braun, F. and T. Lex (2016[30]), Berufliche Qualifizierung von jungen Flüchtlingen in Deutschland. Eine Expertise.

Young natives with immigrant parents

In 2016, around 1 in 10 people in the age group 15-35 are born in Germany and have at least one immigrant parent (1.96 million).

Shares of natives with immigrant parents are slightly higher in Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia, ranging between 13% and 15% within this age group (Figure 1.3). This group – natives with immigrant parents – is set to grow considerably; among the 10-15 year-olds the share is already 27% (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2017[31]).

Overall, close to 70% among 15-35 year-olds have parents who were born in lower-income countries (European Union and OECD, 2015[32]). In addition, the share of immigrant parents who are low educated is high. Among 10-20 year-old natives with a migration background, close to 30% have parents who only obtained an elementary school or lower secondary school diploma, compared to 5% among those with native-born parents (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung, 2016[33]).

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Figure 1.3. Population shares according to migration background among 15-35 year-olds, 2016
Figure 1.3. Population shares according to migration background among 15-35 year-olds, 2016

Note: Percentage of total population aged 15-35 years-old, by region with available data.

Source: Own calculations from Statistisches Bundesamt (2017[31]) Bildung und Kultur - Berufliche Bildung 2016. Fachserie 11 Reihe 3,


The educational background of young natives with immigrant parents

Despite having grown up in Germany, this group faces considerable obstacles both in the school and then in the labour market. For the most part, weaker educational and labour market outcomes than among young people with native parents reflect that young people from migrant backgrounds disproportionally grew up in families of low socio-economic status, which has a considerable impact of children’s educational trajectories in Germany.

Among the 15-35 year-olds who are not in education anymore, differences among natives with immigrant parents and those with native-born parents are most pronounced at the upper and lower end of the educational spectrum (Table 1.7). Whereas shares of those with a Realschule certificate are the same, native students with immigrant parents more often only have a Hauptschule certificate and graduate less frequently from upper secondary education. Among young natives with a migration background, close to one in four leave the education system with a lower secondary qualification.

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Table 1.7. Educational attainment of native-born young people with and without migrant a background, 2016
15-35 year-olds who are not in education


Native students with immigrant parents

Native students without migrant background

No school leaving certificate



Lower secondary (Hauptschule)



Lower secondary (Realschule)



Upper secondary (Fachabitur and Abitur)



Source: Own calculations from Statistisches Bundesamt (2017[31]) Bildung und Kultur - Berufliche Bildung 2016. Fachserie 11 Reihe 3


In addition, natives with immigrant parents perform less well than those without a migrant background when assessing their reading literacy. In 2015, natives with immigrant parents scored around 50 points lower in OECD PISA testing at age 15; a difference that translates to more than a year of schooling. This gap is twice as high as the EU-average. In addition, close to one-quarter lacked basic reading skills at age 15, compared to one in ten students with native-born parents5 (OECD, 2018[8]).

Educational aspirations

Despite generally lower educational outcomes, there is a large literature showing that parents and students with a migrant background have high educational aspirations. Among low-income immigrant families, educational aspirations as tested in PISA data are often found to be higher than among native families of comparable socio-economic background (OECD, 2017[11]). This is also the case in Germany, where immigrant parents are more likely than German-born parents to expect that their children will attend university, and this likelihood further increases when controlling for the parents’ socio-economic background (OECD, 2015[34]).

Research on students in Germany indicates that students with an immigrant background who hold a school-leaving certificate of a lower or intermediary secondary school (Hauptschule or Realschule) are less likely to be interested in pursuing VET than their peers with German-born parents. However, the opposite holds for students in upper secondary education.6 Students with a migration background who could also access tertiary education are significantly more likely to be interested in VET (32%) than those with German-born parents (25%) (Beicht and Walden, 2014[35]). These findings somewhat contradict previous findings that found that immigrant parents and students are more oriented towards tertiary education than families without a migration background [see for instance Autorengruppe Bildungsbereichterstattung (2016[33])].

copy the linklink copied!Summary strengths, challenges and policy pointers


Building on a strong VET system

Germans are understandably proud of their VET system. It is a system that demonstrably provides learners with skills demanded by employers: the employment rates of VET graduates is the highest within the EU. The system incorporates work-based learning with students spending the majority of their training in a workplace and has a successful history of helping weaker learners to benefit from VET through preparatory programmes. The social partners are closely involved in VET policy-making, and they have a strong sense of ownership of the education and training system, occupying clearly defined roles at all levels and by sector. Such a structure represents a major advantage for Germany. In privileging, as it does, the importance of workplace exposure, employer engagement and stronger support measures for those in need, it lays a strong foundation for enabling the sustained integration of migrants.

Germany has made impressive and creative efforts to date in addressing barriers preventing migrant access to VET

Over recent years, many new measures have been implemented at a federal, Länder and local level, aimed at supporting the integration of migrants. Responding to a complex situation, very significant efforts have been made involving a board part of society. Authorities, employers, trade unions, civic organisations and numerous individual volunteers have all played important roles, responding to the needs of migrant youth, especially recent refugees and asylum seekers. Many initial measures, notably in terms of language acquisition, were specifically targeted at migrants. Migrants are now increasingly enrolling in measures that are available to all struggling learners. Work-based learning is a common thread across all such measures. It is an approach which has proven track record in supporting vulnerable youth, of all backgrounds, to achieve within the VET systems. The close engagement of employers helps to ensure that preparatory provision is aligned with real labour market demand and practice. Not all countries recognise the importance of work-based learning in migrant integration and many will benefit from consideration of its role within German provision.

Challenges and summary of policy options

Chapter 2: Getting informed about VET

Ensure that existing career guidance services are pro-active, personalised and co-ordinated.

The OECD welcomes current efforts in improving the co-ordination of career guidance. As such services are already strong in Germany, opportunity exists to continue building on these structures and make sure that the policy is better aligned in order to increase efficiencies by avoiding overlap and increase quality by expanding successful provision. It is important that guidance counsellors have the right skills to meet the migrants’ complex needs.

With many migrants arriving in Germany from countries where VET is an unattractive educational pathway, further consideration can be given to ensuring that the career guidance services are pro-active, personalised and accessible both for migrant students and adults. Provision should allow them to consider the breadth of education and training options and challenge stereotyping that may exist about VET options. Direct encounters with workplaces are essential to effective career guidance.

Chapter 2: Building the necessary skills to enter VET

Ensure that recent arrivals have access to high quality language learning at an early point and throughout their training. Consideration should be given to scaling up provision that focuses on combining language learning and VET as this is a particularly effective mechanism for both learning and integration.

Language acquisition is essential to integration into German economic life and the sooner it is achieved, the better the results for individuals and society. It is important, consequently, to make sure that migrants in need have access to high-quality language learning at an early stage and throughout their VET training. Building up quality assurance mechanisms are necessary to ensure that the standard of the language training is satisfactory.

Ensure that there is sufficient evidence on the effectiveness of existing preparatory programmes through evaluations.

Preparatory classes for recent arrivals demand greater evaluation with the educational and employment trajectories of participants tracked, identifying success factors and assessing their impact on finding apprenticeships and/or employment.

Ensure that existing preparatory programmes are consistently available across Länder.

Preparatory programmes in VET schools are essential to enabling access to apprenticeships. They increase the knowledge and skills of learners and thereby reduce risks to employers. Poorly prepared learners take longer to develop the productive skills which ensure that the cost of an apprenticeship is outweighed by the benefits of provision.

Consider increasing access to successful preparatory programmes to learners over 18 years old.

In order to fully secure the opportunities presented by such successful provision, the age limit for preparatory classes in VET schools should be increased, so that a greater number of young migrants can benefit from such measures. Eligibility up to the age of 25 years, as is already the case in some Länder, might be considered throughout Germany.

Increase peer-learning between the Länder on successful programmes.

Finally, peer-learning across Länder on providing quality preparatory courses for recent arrivals should be strengthened, for instance by creating a co-ordinating body for the transition system across the regions. Opportunity exists to improve quality and to increase economies of scale through greater co-ordination.

Chapter 3 Getting into VET

In order to ease access into VET, consideration should be given to policy options that will:

  • Further roll out introductory training (Einstiegsqualifizierungen - EQ) in co-operation with employers as this has proven to be a successful stepping stone into apprenticeship training.

  • Ensure a consistent implementation of the 3+2 scheme across Germany with access to the status granted from the moment an apprenticeship contract is signed.

  • Provide diversity training for recruiters, focusing particularly on SMEs to address the issue of discrimination.

  • Reduce unconscious stereotyping towards, and build the social capital of, humanitarian migrants and other youth with migrant parents, by enabling more opportunities to engage with potential recruiters, e.g. through job fairs, short work placements during school and visits to companies.

Chapter 4 Support during VET

The dropout rates from apprenticeships of youth with migrant parents are a matter of concern. It is towards the end of an apprenticeship when an employer recoups early investment in training. Greater action to reduce dropout will build employer confidence.

Strengthen the availability of existing support measures during VET, such as assisted vocational training (Assistierte Ausbildung, AsA), to provide employers and humanitarian migrants, as any other learner at risk of poor outcomes, with necessary help so that they can complete upper secondary VET.

As Germany already has existing structures to build on when it comes to supporting apprentices and employers, make sure this support is consistently available. Review the effectiveness of existing measures and prepare to scale up the successful ones.

Ensure that collaboration and communication locally between apprentices, employers, schools and social services is strong. There is a need to identify, and respond to, potential challenges as early as possible in order to increase the chances of migrants completing VET.

Chapter 5 Governing the system

Ensuring policy coherence

In the ongoing work of updating the Federal Action Plan, include a specific focus on VET as a mechanism for integrating migrants. The strategy should contain long-term measurable objectives and articulate the cross cutting responsibilities of different ministries to make sure that measures are well co-ordinated.

Continue and strengthen efforts to co-ordinate policy between the federal ministries and underlying agencies to ensure the effective implementation of the revised strategy and facilitate information exchange and policy discussion among key stakeholders.

Policy-making should be co-ordinated with stakeholder groups, including bodies representing migrants.

Secure evidence needed to make informed policy decisions

Take steps to improve evidence on the effectiveness of implemented measures. There is a need for better knowledge about what programmes are delivering. Putting a stronger focus on evidence includes encouraging local initiatives to build in evaluation mechanisms. Based on this information, successful practices should be rolled out, while ineffective ones should be scaled down and their abolition considered. Further, make sure that there is appropriate data available about how the migrants, particularly humanitarian migrants, are performing through the system.

Ensuring policy co-operation and peer-learning

Place greater emphasis on facilitating peer learning across the Länder which can lead to increased effectiveness. The federal level should take responsibility for creating a culture of learning through experience.

Consider revising funding mechanisms for projects locally to ensure sustainability, successful outcomes, innovative practices and value for money.

Chapter 6 Exploring increased flexibility in the VET system

Drawing upon experience of local initiatives and other OECD countries, consider developing in close alignment with employers more flexible pathways targets both youths and adults within the VET system.

Exploring flexible approaches in the regular VET system can help in meeting the specific needs of youth and adults who struggle to enter or complete VET including, but not exclusively, migrants and the native-born children of migrant parents. Increased flexibility can enhance student success rates in developing certified skills that enable self-sufficiency and contribute to the economy as a whole.

More flexible solutions can take many forms. Three main approaches include: shorter linked apprenticeships; longer apprenticeships; modular approaches.

Such approaches have been seen to be effective in enabling the progression of youth at risk of poor outcomes without compromising their employability. By monitoring the migrants’ performance within VET, assessing local pilots that are experimenting with flexible solutions and learning from international practice, opportunity exists to give serious consideration to the development of more flexible models in Germany. This is particularly important should progression rates through the VET systems fail to significantly increase.

In considering policy options, perhaps greatest priority relates to embedding stronger mechanisms for evaluation and peer learning. Over recent years Germany has responded to significant new demands on its VET system with determination and creativity. Building on excellent foundations, opportunity exists to better review, identify and expand more effective provision based on deeper understanding of the extent of challenges faced by different learners. Such practice not only underpins effective provision, but also enables strategic leadership and nurtures a culture of continual improvement of relevance to all VET learners.


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← 1. For the definitions of key words and phrases used in this report to describe ‘migrants’, ‘refugees’, ‘asylum seekers’, ‘toleration status’, ‘humanitarian migrants’, ‘young people with a migration background’ and ‘foreign nationals’, please see the Glossary.

← 2. 64% of migrants are between 18 and 40 years old, compared to only 27.9% of the German population being in this age group. Only 2.1% of migrants are older than 65 years, compared to 19.8% of the German population.

← 3. Compared to 2016, the transition system recorded a decline of 10.9% in 2018 due to declining numbers of refugees in Germany.

← 4. The survey (IAB-BAMF-SOEP-Befragung) includes 4 500 asylum seekers, refugees and tolerated persons who arrived in Germany between 2013 and early 2016.

← 5. Pupils who lack basic reading skills are those who score no higher than Level 1 (or 407 points) in PISA assessments of reading proficiency.

← 6. No distinction is made between foreign and native-born students.

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