The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) is a statistical framework for organizing information on education maintained by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is a member of the international family of economic and social classifications of the United Nations.
The ISCED was designed in the early 1970s to serve ‘as an instrument suitable for assembling, compiling and presenting statistics of education both within individual countries and internationally. The first version, known as ISCED 1976, was approved by the International Conference on Education (Geneva, 1975), and was subsequently endorsed by UNESCO’s 19th General Conference in 1976.
The second version, known as ISCED 1997, was approved by the UNESCO General Conference at its 29th session in November 1997 as part of efforts to increase the international comparability of education statistics. It covered primarily two cross-classification variables: levels (7) and fields of education (25). The UNESCO Institute for Statistics led the development of a third version, which was adopted by UNESCO’s 36th General Conference in November 2011 and which will replace ISCED 1997 in international data collections in the coming years. ISCED 2011 has 9 rather than 7 levels, created by dividing the tertiary pre-doctorate level into three levels. It also extended the lowest level (ISCED 0) to cover a new sub-category of early childhood educational development programmes, which target children below the age of 3 years.
During the review and revision, which led to the adoption of ISCED 2011, UNESCO Member States agreed that the fields of education should be examined in a separate process. This review is now underway with the view to establishing an independent but related classification called the ISCED Fields of Education and Training.
Related materials from the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training and also Eurostat provide further information and statistical guidance for the classification of sub-fields of education as a companion to ISCED.