degreesAll this week, Debating Europe has been publishing a themed series of posts looking at the issue of youth unemployment in Europe. With young people the first to be fired and the last to be hired in a crisis, this is an issue that should be high up the political agenda. One of the questions that came up repeatedly during our event on Wednesday was whether education systems in Europe are failing to prepare young people with the skills they will need in an increasingly competitive and globalised world. We’ll be looking at this question in more detail today. 

Let’s begin with a video question from Mariza, a student from Greece, who is worried that her education will be wasted because she won’t be able to find a job (the youth unemployment rate is an eye-watering 59.1% in Greece right now). We took Mariza’s question to Marije Cornelissen, a Dutch MEP with  Greens group in the European Parliament, and a member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.

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Cornelissen answers that education is the best investment that young people can make during the crisis. But what about those young people who feel they have spent too much time in education, and now hear people tell them they are “over-qualified”? We had an (unfortunately all-too-familiar) story told to us by Caroline:

I have a cum laude BA, an MA and an LLM and am now completely lost in life… After three unpaid internships, I decided to cut my losses and look for work outside of my sector. There, however, I’m met with the typical overqualified/too ambitious/no work experience response. So it seems that whichever way I turn, I simply cannot move forward and am left stuck right back where I started. I feel stiffed, as I’ve always worked hard and deemed myself competent, gotten good grades, participated in tons of extracurricular activities- and now I feel useless, incompetent and lost. This crisis has not only robbed me of suitable work opportunities, but also of a sense of purpose…

We took Caroline’s story to David Willetts, the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science, and Conservative MP for Havant (meaning his party sits in the  Conservatives group in the European Parliament).

willetts-speaksOf course, I completely sympathise with Caroline.  When she says she has completed three unpaid internships, it’s important to point out that we do properly enforce labour market regulations in Britain, and, whilst there are regrettably examples of work that is being done unpaid, if you are doing work as an employee, you should be paid as an employee.

We also took Caroline’s story to Tony Wagner, whose work as Innovation Education Fellow at Harvard University focuses on the future of education.

Wagner encourages young people to be more entrepreneurial, and to think about getting together with friends to found a start-up. However, a comment from Carlos suggested that Europe lagged well behind the US when it came to entrepreneurial spirit:

On the other side of the Atlantic, they understood long ago that failure is not a bad thing… Without changing the minds of European policy makers, as well as venture capitalists, Europe will never be an entrepreneurial zone with open-minded businesses.

We took this suggestion to Rebecca Taylor, a British Liberal Democrat MEP with the  Liberal Democrats group, to see how she would respond.

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Finally, we had a comment sent in from Peter suggesting that the “school system must be directly linked in a strong, mutually beneficial partnership with business” and calling for a “jobs for degrees” guarantee.

We took this suggestion to Helge Braun, Parliamentary State Secretary to the German Federal Minister of Education and Research and a member of the German Bundestag with the centre-right CDU, part of the  Centre-Right group in the European Parliament.

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What do YOU think? Should young people spend the economic crisis in the education system, waiting until conditions improve to enter the labour market? Or do they risk being “over-qualified” for the positions available, without enough practical experience? How can education systems in Europe encourage more entrepreneurial thinking? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions!

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26 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar

    Will all the respect to Marije Cornelissen, one thing from her response that literally feels like a kick to the stomach: “Best thing young people can do is to educate themselves.”

    Did you ever think about what your comment sounds like to a person who has been in the education system for 20 years or so, worked hard to get the education and postponed the things in life that others might have already achieved, in order to get to that level of education, but now that person cannot even think about entering adult life because it is impossible to reach at least minimal economic security? Having to live with parents, who pay for food, expenses, rent? Have you any idea how humiliating this is for young people and what an overwhelming sense of being useless to the world this creates? And now you go and tell them to study more (and reading between the lines: wait for things to sort themselves out). What will you tell them in 5 years, when the economic situation starts getting better but the generation will again be unemployable, because of being too old and unexperienced (and overeducated)?

  2. avatar
    Empleo Senior

    With all respect, Europe in general is missing an opportunity to make a real European labour market. In the current situation we have 27+1 national labour markets plus an European market (transborder) not working properly.
    On the other hand, we are focusing too much to youg unemplyment and forgetting that Senior (+45 years old) are also paying a high price during this crisis. Most of unemployed Senior are also supporting their families.
    Of course youg people must be at the European top priorities but European leaders and institutions should take in consideration that Senior also exist and merite a better consideration from the public authorities.

  3. avatar
    Elena Pantopoulou

    The problem in Europe is the lack of a stable economic environment, totally controllable and planned for more than a decade. Every year different strategies and directives, applicable to internal markets, are formed in order to promote different professional sectors or to resolve current issues, which might not be main influential factors of European economy.Each time bussiness has to get reformed so as enterprises are obliged to change the professional profile of their staff.
    This unsolved issue cannot create a strong and long connection between education and labour market. So, young people start their university life, studying on a field which seem competitive in labour market but after 4 or 5 years, when it’s time to enter labour market , they are practically off since the studying field is not professionally competitive anymore.In order to find a job, they are obliged to choose other professional fields,” in fashion” by that time, and follow rather expensive study programmes but, when the time comes, the new professional sector is closed and so on.
    A dozen of strategies for combating unemployment just aggravate the situation and new strategies which reduce currently the high percentages do not offer a solution ( stage programmes to private enterprises). The key is a long stable economic environment for private sector mainly, which will lead to standard criterias for educational needs to young people.

    • avatar

      You can’t blame it all on the unstable economy. Just observe the fact, that nearly every country in Europe is getting older e.g. people have few children and live a very long life. this makes the mass of the community and the average citizen 42-43 years old. And those people are proofed not to be as innovative and creative as 34-35 years old. On the other hand, new businesses are started by experienced people, but monopoles in many areas gust smash those businesses and leave their owners broken…

  4. avatar

    Although I have all my sympathy for colleagues of my generation such as Caroline, in my opinion quite a lot of the unemployment problems that my generation faces can be solved by ourselves.

    I believe it is a matter of attitude: first, we must stop waiting for the government to come and offer us jobs as soon as we finish our studies. This is an obsolete habit and is based on a welfare state/social democrat premise that perhaps worked in Europe until ’90s, but not anymore. Also, don’t prepare as if you will only have one job for the rest of your life. For our generation, this is a chance close to 0, so you have to prepare for at least two possible fields. And this brings me to my next argument.

    Secondly, it is a matter of the extracurricular work done besides studies. We must make sure that this work is relevant to what we want to do further in our careers, and not just something that is popular among our classmates. In my opinion it is of paramount importance to develop competences such as communication, public speaking, teamwork, management, leadership, negotiation. These are pretty much needed on a daily basis, whether you have a project that must be done as a team, you have to give a presentation or you are negotiating a work contract etc. they all come in use very often, and if unfortunately you won’t get them during classes, it is your responsibility to develop them elsewhere.

    Going back to where I began, it is a matter of attitude and how you see things, whether you let a first failure to get you down or you keep trying. It matters a lot on how you see the problems and whether you try to solve them or you just back down and say that it can’t be done. Here I would like to agree to Mr. WAGNER that entrepreneurship is always a solution and in my opinion it is the best one.

    On the other side, what the EU policy makers should do is to elaborate an European wide internship law that on the one hand encourages private companies to accept students and offer them a serious training and on the other hand protects young people from being exploited as cheap or free labour force .

  5. avatar
    Laszlo Szemelyi

    What we need to get rid of, is the expectation that being educated leads to being employed. There is no direct correlation according to statistics, only for the first 12 years in most EU countries. So if you do higher education it does not mean you have a higher chance to be employed unless there are other things you have or you do.
    I suggest everyone during university years to concentrate on gaining skills and relationships rather than pure knowledge, and try to take a look at the job offers and the requirements in them. If you are in a kind of general subject of education like communications, law, maths etc you will likely have few offers which say that your education is a requirement, because employers need special knowledge most of the time. In this case I suggest to combine the knowledge with something more popular – like law with genetics, maths with authentication, history with camera operation etc.
    Also everyone should work on its own personality: being proactive, modest and able to work on its own but also as a team member are essential to be considered for today’s employer in the knowledge society.
    I don’t want to say there are no overflows in some areas in the educational system. But I see that if student chooses an area what it really likes and dives into it with enthusiasm, and takes care about the things I emphasized, that person will get a job pretty soon.

  6. avatar
    Limbidis Adrian

    So according to people like Toma, we should “stop expecting”:
    -a a decent job that goes with higher education
    -a stable job that does not stress the hell out of us. We should get more used to “running from job to job” at the employer’s whim
    -we must punish students who did not pick “the right education”
    – we must allow corporations to pick and choose how they can employ and preferably how they offer no benefits on a job or even a job at all.

    Well i say that is the exact thing we must NOT do.
    We should “clamp down” on corporate “freedom”. WE should regulate them so harsh that they either give people a living wage or they can go to China or India ( which they are doing either way because we won’t accept slavery ).
    And let the EU impose import taxes that will KILL any slavery based company that wants to export here.

    Force them to give out a minimum wage.
    Force them to have a contract for minim of 5-6 years , not a few MONTHS like we have now.
    Dispense with this “trial period”.
    And so on and so forth.

    This “the wellfare state doesn’t work” rhetoric is just the thing you would expect from right wing circles.
    They represent big business interest and it is amazing how efficient the brainwashing is that even average working people adhere to this kind of thinking. It is the same mentality at the Thatcherites:
    “the welfare state means giving to the leeches and the moochers”.
    When in reality it helps even out the inequalities of the economy.

  7. avatar
    Limbidis Adrian

    @Francisco Guerreiro
    Agree :)

  8. avatar
    Roland Knaap

    The new seed law means a loss of biodiversity, i want more biodiversity not less, less dependency on big corporation not more!

  9. avatar

    @Peter Schellinck
    So even for worthless degrees like for example Swahilian Language Studies or Women’s Gender Studies? Jobs guaranteed?

    People should not be getting degrees they ain’t gonna need.

    What’s really failing young people is a corrupt political class that considers bailing criminal bankers and corporations out to be more important than anything else. And that this political class has awarded baby boomers so many things that they borrowed tons of money for to pay. And of course, they expect my generation to pay off the debt.

  10. avatar
    Daniel HotFire Scurtu

    How about engaging young students in activities where taking the initiative and being bold and taking a calculated risk yields a reward. Like for instance… playing Risk and debating strategy.
    That’s a dimension of thinking a lot of students are not exposed to until they reach the working world.

    That’s just one of a million examples of ways we can stimulate people’s intelligence that would better prepare them for the world.

  11. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Eu prepunha um novo modelo como a sustentabilidade no ensino porque acredito que no futuro o estudante pode oferecer a confiança e trezer um novo mundo este é apenas um exemplo porque a melhor coisa que os jovens podem fazer é educar-se

  12. avatar

    Vocational training ,proper apprenticships and trade qualifications is what our young people need , not degrees in subjects which have nothing to offer business. When leaving education there is also the problem of the unskilled jobs market , traditionally the low paid jobs of young people now being taken by economic migrants from poor EU countries and further afield.
    Youth unemployment is a victim of free movement of labour and lack of training , not the education systems of Europe

  13. avatar
    Alexandra Volou

    Initially,I would like to make a reference to the book ”Emilious” written by Jean Jaques Rousseau and published in 1762, whose main idea refers to the innovations and novelties that should have been done during the period of the Enlightment. However, the information could be characterised as misleading if I didn’t point out the basis of the following ideas, which goes back to the ancient times, and more specifically to Greek Anquity. It was then, when Socrates, the exceptional philosopher, developed theories concerning the major issue of education. The one that I am going to demonstrate and analyse is: the aim of Education does not consist in teaching and providing knowledge, but in learning the person to think, by cultivating the perception and by broadening the mental and spiritual horizons of a person.
    No one can deny the fact that going through our epoque, an epoque which is characterised by cosmogonic reclassifications caused principally from the massive evolution of Science, the major challenge that we are called to tackle and prevent its rescaling, consists in the specialization of education and the the exclusion of the humanistic ancient greek values and principles.
    Subsequently, in my point of view, the education system should rehierarch its aims and principles.

  14. avatar

    About 25 years ago (1986!), I was a technician at a European Employment Ministry when we had a visit from a Canadian delegation, offering a program of Vocational Training, consisting of 3 main vectors for life-long education: how everyone could learn to develop a life plan, a society project and a professional/career project. Governments should provide hints, like 5 year economical projections for any university course and respective employment prospects (you can see that at North-American institutions!).

    As I was told, it was nor interesting for Europe, as people should be able to learn whatever they wish, independently of economic viability. As I understood, Morocco bought the program. It’s just fair that the world reaches a new balance which has been pursued since the end of the century, where it was predicted that dominant occidental societies should loose some quality of life to benefit the rest of the world. But can’t we be aware of what’s on the boardgame? Is it necessary to suffer, to share misery? Do we have to submit to an Anglo-Saxon dominant intelligence, where only the elder son inherits and the others have to follow military or monastery life?

  15. avatar

    In Poland, to set business you need to pay obligatory social security contributions which are around 250euro per month. It may seem not much for someone in UK or even Greece, but most young people in Poland earn around 300-400euro after taxes, which is barely enought to make living, not to mention spending on setting up business or making any savings.
    The bigger problem is, that even if you want, for example, sell some handmade jewellery to help your budget with extra, let’s say, 50-100euro, you MUST pay 250 euro social security. That means, setting business is pretty much reserved for those who are earning good amount of money, and in today economic situation, it’s obvious that they won’t risk loosing their jobs to run (always risky) business.

  16. avatar

    I think the education systems in Europe are one of the causes for the lack of competitiveness and innovation in Europe. Seeing all the flaws in the systems, I decided to envision my own schooling system. It’s based on creating citizens that are cultured and accustomed the business world from a young age. You can find it on my blog, Eunnovative. (….
    I know links to other sites isn’t exactly classy but I really think that the education system is possible and, most of all, would really be a great improvement.

  17. avatar
    Fed up

    I’m studying a UK joint degree law with criminology.

    I’m studying through distance learning and I can tell that EU system is literally in shambles.

    Not enough opportunities for young people looking for internships.

    There should be more EU cooperation to promote students and graduates to move to another EU state

    The EU will crumble because it deserves to.

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