Transition Report 2013 Stuck in transition?

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Facts at a glance

The proportion of the population aged 25 and over in the transition region that had completed at least secondary education in 1990 (compared with 35% in advanced economies).

ALMOST 75% of migrants from countries in the transition region emigrated to other countries in the region.

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IN 14 transition countries, having an inadequately educated workforce was among the top three (out of 14) business environment obstacles.

10 The number of universities in the transition region among the top 500 universities in the 2013 Shanghai ARWU league table.

Human capital

Quality of education and human capital

Primary and secondary education

Since 2000, 16 countries in the transition region have participated in international assessments of students in primary education and 25 have taken part in assessments of secondary students. Prior to this, participation was limited to a handful of countries. Charts 4.2a and b show the latest available scores.1

On average, primary school students in the transition region achieved slightly lower scores than those in advanced economies in 2007, although Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia were above the EU-15 average. Armenia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Moldova, Russia and Slovenia have all seen improvements in primary school scores over time, while scores have deteriorated in the more mature economies of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania and Slovak Republic.

Larger differences emerge at the secondary level, partly owing to the increased numbers of countries participating. In 2009 the leading transition country was Estonia, which was also ahead of all EU countries and only trailed South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Hungary, Poland and Slovak Republic also surpassed the EU-15 average, while Latvia and Russia were comparable to the EU-15.

Chart 4.2a
  CEB   SEE   EEC   Central Asia   SEMED

Chart 4.2b
  CEB   SEE   EEC   Central Asia   SEMED

Source: Authors’ calculations based on Altinok et al. (2013).
Note: * – data refer to 2007; † – data refer to 2003. Hong Kong achieved the highest primary education score (649.0), while Taiwan achieved the highest secondary education score (661.4).

SEMED countries are lagging significantly behind most countries in the transition region, particularly in terms of the quality of primary education. This can lead to problems later on, such as students dropping out or a failure to cover the secondary school curriculum. However, the case of Kazakhstan shows that even when primary education is of relatively high quality, the quality of secondary education can still be low.

Tertiary education

The communist bloc’s restricted access to cutting-edge research prior to the 1990s (the former Yugoslavia being an exception in some respects) meant that transition challenges were particularly likely at tertiary level. Science and engineering (S&E) may have been an exception, as these were promoted under communism because of their military relevance, but the resulting research knowledge and expertise did not necessarily spill over into the broader university system.2

There are no international student assessments at tertiary level. However, the quality of tertiary education can be gauged from university rankings, the citation of academic publications, applications for European Research Council (ERC) grants and recipients of S&E doctorates at universities in the United States. Although a few countries in the transition region ‒ the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia – excel in this respect, they do not match Western counterparts such as Germany, the Scandinavian nations, Switzerland or the United Kingdom (see Annex 4.1).

League tables of top universities are a popular measure of the quality of tertiary education institutions, although they tend to reflect research performance more accurately than teaching quality. The top 500 universities in the 2013 edition of the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) include 10 universities from countries in the transition region ‒ Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Serbia and Slovenia – and one (in Egypt) from the SEMED region. By comparison, there are 38 UK universities, 37 from Germany and 20 from France, while among the smaller Western countries, Sweden has 11, the Netherlands 13, and Belgium and Switzerland seven each.

Citations of academic publications are a research-focused measure of the quality of tertiary education. The number of citable documents remains about five times greater in advanced market economies than in the transition region, although there were impressive increases between 1997 and 2011 in places such as Serbia, Turkey and the SEMED region (especially Tunisia). Articles by authors in the transition region also tend to be cited less often (4.5 times per article on average, compared with almost 10 for those of authors from advanced economies), and they also trail in terms of the “h-index”, which reflects the productivity and impact of the published work of a scholar.3 Egypt leads the SEMED region in this regard, with an h-index that is about 55 per cent of the average for an author in an advanced economy.

ERC grants support top researchers of any nationality or age who wish to pursue their cutting-edge research in an EU member state or an associated country or organisation. These long-term grants are almost entirely based on the assessment of researchers’ abilities, as shown by their publication records, and should therefore be a good proxy for the quality of an individual researcher’s tertiary education. Chart 4.3 shows ERC grant recipients per million people of working age (15 to 64-year-olds) in the country of the host institution in the period 2007-12. The list features only seven countries in the transition region and Turkey (out of 18 eligible countries). Hungary and Estonia are the leading countries in the transition region (and Hungary is also ahead of Western counterparts Greece and Portugal).

The quality of an education system is also reflected in the number of students from that country who successfully complete doctoral degrees in the United States. Between 2002 and 2011 the average number of recipients of S&E doctorates at US universities per million people of working age was 79.5 in advanced economies, compared with 30.5 in transition countries (see Chart 4.4). Nonetheless, there has been a significant improvement over time, mostly owing to students from Bulgaria, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. This may indicate improvements in the dissemination of information among students regarding universities and job options abroad, the influence of networks established over time or the increased affordability of application fees given increases in average incomes.

Chart 4.3

Source: European Research Council.

Chart 4.4

Source: Survey of Earned Doctorates, National Science Foundation (2013).

Among the SEMED countries, Jordan stands out with 278.1 recipients of S&E doctorates from US universities per million people of working age in the period 2002-11. However, all countries have experienced a downward trend.


  1. See Altinok et al. (2013). [back]
  2. In the former Soviet Union basic research was concentrated in science cities, “closed” cities and academic cities. Funding for these cities has been hit hard post-1990. See Schweiger and Zacchia (2013). [back]
  3. The h-index is based on a scientist's most-cited papers and the number of times that these are cited in other publications. [back]