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I was doing my geography homework when I came across a grammar problem. I don’t know whether to use a noun or an adjective in the blank:

This neighbourhood provides a local labour supply with a higher _____ level.

Should I use educational or education in the blank?

Also, what’s the difference between educational or education when both are possible as premodifiers?

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Both are used, and in practice there is little difference in meaning.

However, the collocation varies by corpus and timeframe. In English fiction, the adjective is still preferred:

American English ngram of higher education/educational level

Although the preference is not quite so strong in overall writing:

English fiction ngram of higher education/educational level

Meanwhile, over in Britlandia, the trend is different:

Britty English ngram of higher education/educational level

As John Lawler observes in comments:

Actually the trend is the same. You can see from the graphs that the noun compound is gaining ground while the adjective is losing. In Britain, it's just a bit more advanced, that's all. Frequently used phrases tend to shed unnecessary morphemes once they're firmly linked together. Consider soft shell crabs and soft-shelled crabs, for instance.

In any event, education is only ever a noun, never an adjective. That means it can only be modified by adjectives like compulsory — not by adverbs like very the way educational can.

Per the OED, it means:

The systematic instruction, teaching, or training in various academic and non-academic subjects given to or received by a child, typically at a school; the course of scholastic instruction a person receives in his or her lifetime.

However, this noun can also easily be used as an attribute of another noun: education policy, education system, education funding, education legislation.

The adjective educational is nothing more than the adjectival form of the word education. It means:

Of or relating to the provision of education.

It gets used to modify nouns as in educational opportunities, educational system, educational cartoons, educational psychology.

Another adjective with identical meaning but far less frequency is educative.

There’s perhaps some theoretical ambiguity with the attributive noun, but I really don’t think people will often read higher education level as a level of higher education rather than a higher level of education.

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    Actually the trend is the same. You can see from the graphs that the noun compound is gaining ground while the adjective is losing. In Britain, it's just a bit more advanced, that's all. Frequently used phrases tend to shed unnecessary morphemes once they're firmly linked together. Consider soft shell crabs and soft-shelled crabs, for instance. – John Lawler Feb 18 '18 at 18:04
  • Whether one should use pot-bellied stoves or pot belly / potbelly stoves might generate a heated discussion. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 18 '18 at 19:02
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    Well, I'd argue that higher level of education=both higher education level and higher educational level but the participle adjectives examples might not fit that pattern....Or maybe I don't know my crabs and stoves. (I was told not to comment but to give answers in an earlier question but this seem directly related to the subject here and doesn't merit a separate answer.) – Lambie Feb 18 '18 at 19:11
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This neighbourhood provides a local labour supply with a higher _____ level.

Should I use educational or education in the blank?

Also, what’s the difference between educational or education when both are possible as premodifiers?

There is a subtle difference:

  • [higher education] level

In the first example, higher education modifies level. Level generically refers to a position on a scale of some sort, and higher education is an adjective phrase describing that particular position more specifically.

A position on a scale of amount, quantity, extent, or quality.

‘a high level of unemployment’
‘debt rose to unprecedented levels’

  • higher [educational level]

In the second example, the adjective, higher modifies the noun phrase, educational level. Again, level refers to a position, but it is more specifically an educational level.

There is growing concern that educational levels in the U.S. population may stagnate or even decrease in coming decades.

In your sentence, the context speaks more to an educational level that is higher, than to a generic sounding level which is just incidentally relative to higher education. It's a matter of emphasizing what is most desirable for the local labour supply: Would the local businesses prefer to be supplied with employees of a higher quality educational level -- or would they be more interested in being supplied workers from a level that just happens fortunately to be in the realm of 'higher education'?

Grammatically, either wording is adequate to get the idea across; but due to its rather technical, official-sounding tone, I would finish the sentence this way:

This neighborhood provides a local labour supply with a higher educational level.

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