International Standard Classification of Education

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The UNESCO International Standard Classification of Education ( ISCED ) classifies and characterizes school types and school systems. It differs several levels (levels) and is also suitable for the indication of the level of education (the highest educational qualification) in international comparison.


The classification was first used in the 1970s to compile statistics on education around the world. It was approved at the International Conference on Education in Geneva in 1975 and adapted in Paris in 1978 to standardize educational statistics. Over time, further adjustments were necessary, mainly because of the increasing variety of educational opportunities.

ISCED-97 was approved by UNESCO in 1997. It was revised and adopted as ISCED – 2011 at the 36th session of the UNESCO General Conference in November 2011. Over the next few years it will replace ISCED-97 as the basis for international comparisons of education.

ISCED 2011 level

Level English name description Corresponding ISCED 97 level
0 Early childhood education (01 Early childhood educational development) A language-intensive and visually stimulating learning environment is essential for early childhood education , care and upbringing of children under three years of age. Educational programs aimed at promoting children's linguistic expression have an emphasis on language acquisition and the use of language for meaningful communication .

In order to be able to practice coordination and motor skills under supervision and through interaction with the supervisors, there are also opportunities for active play. Educational programs that are solely for childcare (supervision, nutrition and health) are not part of ISCED.

0 Early childhood education (02 Pre-primary education) Programs at ISCED level 0 (02) or the “elementary level” are intended to promote early cognitive, physical, social and emotional development and to introduce young children to organized lessons outside the family context. Often these programs have a holistic approach, are school-based or institutionalized in some other way for groups of children (e.g. in day care, at community level or in day care centers ). 0
1 Primary education ISCED level 1 education programs are mostly aimed at teaching students basic skills . The focus is on reading, writing and arithmetic. A solid foundation is built and great emphasis is placed on understanding core areas of knowledge and the child's personal and social development. The focus is on learning less complex content without specific specialization . 1
2 Lower secondary education Programs at ISCED level 2 or “lower secondary level” are designed to create the conditions for personal development and lifelong learning on which further educational opportunities can be built.

The programs of "Secondary Level I" build on the learning successes of ISCED level 1.

When entering ISCED level 2, students are between 10 and 13 years old (mostly 12 years old). Education programs at this level are designed to introduce theoretical concepts in a variety of subjects and are usually based on a more subject-specific curriculum . The teachers have a subject-related pedagogical training.

3 Upper secondary education The programs at ISCED level 3, also known as upper secondary level, become much more varied at this level and there are a greater number of options available. The teachers are now highly qualified , especially in the upper grades . The third stage prepares the learners for the tertiary level and teaches the skills that are necessary for the job 3
4th Post-secondary non-tertiary education ISCED level 4 education programs are aimed at graduates of ISCED level 3 whose qualifications are insufficient for access to certain occupational activities or entry into tertiary education. 

Most educational programs at this level prepare for direct entry into the labor market . It is aimed at the individual acquisition of knowledge, skills and abilities as well as competencies that are below the high level of complexity characteristic of the tertiary sector. In order to maintain international comparability, the term “post-secondary, non-tertiary sector” has been chosen as the designation for ISCED level 4.

5 Short-cycle tertiary education Education programs at ISCED level 5, also known as short tertiary education programs, are designed to impart knowledge and skills to the participants that are highly relevant to their professional lives . Care is taken to prepare for the job market through practical orientation or to enable access to other tertiary programs. Academic educational programs below the level of a bachelor's degree are offered here. a. classified. 5B
6th Bachelor or equivalent Education programs at this level are traditionally offered by universities or equivalent tertiary educational institutions. They are usually theoretical and based on the latest research and / or best professional practice. They can also contain practical components and are often designed to provide trainees with professional and / or advanced academic knowledge, competences, abilities and skills. Lessons at this level are often provided by teachers who, as a rule, must have an ISCED level 7 or 8 degree or many years of professional experience in their field .

The preparation of a scientific paper or a research project is not absolutely necessary at this stage. If this is the case, these are significantly simpler than ISCED levels 7 or 8, less independent or are created under stronger guidance.

Successful completion of an education program at ISCED level 3 or 4 with access to tertiary level is usually the entry requirement for these educational programs.

In addition, the successful completion of an admission test may be required, whereby access may also depend on the choice of subject and / or the final grades achieved at ISCED level 3 or 4. The term “Bachelor's or equivalent education program” is used for ISCED level 6 to ensure international comparability

5A and 5B
7th Master or equivalent The ISCED level 7 educational programs, including Masters or equivalent degrees, are designed to provide the participants with high-quality academic knowledge. This can also consist of job-oriented skills, which can lead to a comparable or equivalent qualification. Comprehensive research work can be carried out at this stage, but this cannot be compared to a doctoral thesis . It is typical of the programs at this level that they are mostly very theoretical. However, you can also get practical components. Usually these types of programs are offered by universities or equivalent higher education institutions.
8th Doctoral or equivalent The concept of the education programs of ISCED level 8 or " PhD or equivalent education programs" aims at the acquisition of higher research qualifications and is dedicated to further studies and independent scientific work. Doctoral programs exist in both professional and academic subjects and are usually offered exclusively by research-oriented tertiary education institutions, e.g. B. Universities. These educational programs are based not only on lectures , but rather on research activities. The degree is achieved with the submission and defense of a dissertation, scientific work or an equivalent published work that makes a significant scientific contribution in the respective subject area. 6th

ISCED 97 level

ISCED level flowchart
The various ISCED levels (color coding), using the example of school types in Austria , systematic breakdown and comparison with school levels and average age
Comparison of Germany and Estonia in ISCED levels

Level 0 (preschool education)

Level 0 includes the Pre-school education (pre-primary education) . This includes kindergarten and preschool . It covers ages from 3/5 to 5/7 years.

Level 1 (basic education)

The primary education (first step of basic education) begins with the beginning of compulsory education or schooling and is based on a class teacher system (a single teacher teaches the class in most subjects, mostly in all subjects except religion and works). This includes elementary school  (Austria) or elementary school  (Germany) or primary school  (Switzerland).

Level 2 (secondary education I / lower level, intermediate level)

Secondary education first stage / second step of basic education : Basic training with a specialist teacher system (one teacher for each individual subject). The term corresponds to the expression middle education and describes the school education that goes beyond pre-school and elementary school and continues until the end of compulsory schooling , usually the 7th-9th grade . School year, ages from 10/12 to 14/16. In the German system, the stage is secondary called in Austria also secondary education sub-level (high school, new middle school and lower level AHS).

Level 3 (secondary education II / upper level)

The secondary education second stage or upper secondary education serves general or vocational education . A qualification means entitlement to work in a specific occupational field (Level 3B programs designed to provide direct access to ISCED 5B ) and / or to attend a university (Level 3A programs designed to provide direct access to ISCED 5A ). There are also a few non-advanced programs (Level 3C programs not designed to lead to ISCED 5A or 5B ). The age range is from 15/16 to 18/20.

In German-speaking systems, the upper secondary level and the dual vocational training courses are assigned to ISCED level 3; in Austria this is also referred to as upper secondary level education .

Level 4 (Post-Secondary Education)

Level 4 is post-secondary non tertiary education after completing secondary education, but which cannot be assigned to the tertiary sector. Level 4A programs that allow access to 5A, such as evening grammar schools , colleges , technical colleges (1/2 year); Combinations of a general education program (ISCED 3A) and a vocational program (ISCED 3B), such as vocational / technical high schools ; Level 4B programs that allow access to 5B can be combinations of two vocational programs according to ISCED 3B. Here, too, there are no further special forms (Level 4C).

Level 5 (tertiary education, first level)

The first stage of tertiary education (not leading directly to an advanced research qualification) lasts at least 2 years (here 2-year technical college training (technician, business economist), usually also applies to masters or specialists, provided this is at least complete a 2-year study or training period) and requires completion of secondary education. Level 5B includes practice -related courses (labor-market relevant qualification) at technical schools , vocational academies and the like; Level 5A (university level / advanced research programs and professions with high skills requirements) comprises the rest of the university education below the doctorate.

Level 6 (tertiary education, research qualification)

Tertiary education with research qualification (second stage of tertiary education, leading directly to an advanced research qualification) comprises the highest forms of higher education, i.e. doctorate and habilitation .


The ISCED generally serves the international comparison of school types and educational qualifications , in legal matters as well as official statistics.

She goes into the job classification International Standard Classification of Occupations  an ILO (ISCO).

It is also used, together with measures such as the International Socio-Economic Index of Occupational Status , as an indicator of family background in large-scale assessment studies in the education sector.


Web links


Individual evidence

  1. See the web link with the codification and the comparison of the versions in the annex
  2. a b c See also web link
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