Study shows Brits less well-educated than 18 other European nationalities
Britain is slipping down the league of well-educated countries, a new European survey has revealed.
People in the Baltic states and Eastern Europe are better educated than Britons, while the UK is only mid-table in a European league of people who have at least an upper secondary education (equivalent to A-levels), according to the European Commission's Eurostat study.
Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary and Bulgaria are also among the 18 countries who boast a better-qualified populace than the UK.
Now the University and College Union believes that unless the government opens up opportunities for people and makes education a policy priority, the UK will get left behind on the world stage.
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According to the league table, 92 per cent of the 24 to 65-year-olds in Lithuania had received A-level equivalent education (first place) against 85.8 per cent in Germany (seventh place) and just 76.1 per cent in the UK (19th place).
The government unveiled plans last month to axe the number of university places by 15,000 and has increased the cost of studying a degree to as much as £9,000 a year.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said that people over the age of 24 wishing to study a level-three qualification and above will now have to pay fees of up to £4,000 a year.
However, these charges come against a backdrop of decreasing numbers of people studying. The total number of learners participating in government-funded further education fell by 8 per cent to 4,264,900 in 2010/11.
Mrs Hunt, said: "The UK should be at the top of the table when it comes to education.
"We pride ourselves on being world leaders in many areas and must not settle for mid-table obscurity.
"Even more worrying is the very real possibility that we will slide further down the table as people find it harder to access education following price hikes and restrictions on places."
It comes as Schools Minister Nick Gibbs claimed Dickensian levels of illiteracy still plague parts of England despite decades of increases in state spending on education.
Mr Gibbs said "shadows of Charles Dickens's world" persisted in the country's poorest areas despite major social advances. Expectations of children moving through the school system were too "modest", with teachers settling too often for a "good enough" standard, he claimed. The result was under-achievement by thousands of youngsters, with one in six still struggling to read fluently by the age of 11.
In a speech on the 200th anniversary of the author's birth, Mr Gibb warned that, just as in Victorian times, literacy problems were "heavily orientated towards the poorest in our communities".