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Minding the gap on education and employment

by Maurizio Molinari

 

The jobs gap between well-educated young people and those who left school at an early age has increased during the current economic crisis, according to a new report.

The latest edition of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “Education at a Glance 2013” study analyses education in the 34 OECD member countries, as well as in Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

It stresses that a good level of education is the best insurance against unemployment, citing statistics that show that, on average, only five per cent of the unemployed have a tertiary education compared to 13 per cent of those who didn’t complete secondary education.

Furthermore, between 2008 and 2011, unemployment among degree-holders only rose by 1.5 per cent compared with four per cent of those without a degree.

The wage gap between those who only attained primary education and the ones who successfully completed university and postgraduate courses also increased to 90 per cent in 2011; it was at 75 per cent in 2008.

The report also found vocational training to be crucial in the fight against unemployment.

Countries such as Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland – where there are high levels of vocational graduates – have seen smaller rises in unemployment, and in some cases even a decrease, in comparison to countries where there is a preference for generic upper secondary qualifications.

At the same time, public spending in education has decreased by one per cent in the same period, with 15 out of 34 OECD countries cutting education budgets between 2011 and 2012 compared to five countries in the period between 2008 and 2010.

As for teacher salaries, for the first time they decreased by two per cent between 2009 and 2011, while teaching time in primary and secondary schools increased between 2000 and 2011 in almost 50 per cent of the countries examined.

 

Concerns

But it’s not all roses: according to a major European survey, conducted by the German institute Trendence, graduates have to submit up to sixty applications before they land a job, and the waiting time between when they start to look for employment and when they get it is approaching six months.

And, even more significantly, over half of the European graduates are worried about their future career, a percentage which rises to 80 per cent in the PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece).

Moving back to the findings of the OECD study, it has been criticised by teacher and student representatives as well as education experts who say that the OECD study only gives part of the picture, by focusing on quantitative indicators while neglecting the quality of education.

Education International (EI), an organisation which represents over 30 million teachers in 170 countries, called the report a “wake-up call” for policy makers, as it highlights the imbalance between reduced government spending on education and increased teaching hours.

However, EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen said the reported failed to emphasis the link between quality education, job creation and economic recovery.

“Without a highly qualified and well-supported teaching profession delivering a quality education service, and if we don’t make teaching attractive to young people as a career choice, there will not be robust economic recovery or development.”

Following the release of the OECD report, the European Students’ Union also urged the EU to take notice and give education top priority when designing future policies.

 “While we are happy that the OECD focuses on the benefits of education as a strong driver to fight unemployment, it fails to look at all the positive outcomes for the society such as an improved knowledge-base, cultural awareness and an active participation in the civil society,” says Taina Moisander, Vice-Chairperson of the European Students’ Union (ESU).

 

Doing the right maths

According to Lejf Moos, President of the European Educational Research Association (EERA), the OECD figures concerning Europe should be taken with a pinch of salt: “European educational systems haven’t yet adapted fully to the OECD ways of looking at education,” he says.

“The measures you use anticipate the answers you get: OECD adopts a global success-based approach that not all educational systems, politicians or practitioners share.

"I deem it very positive that there is a trend, apparent in several education systems, to focus more on creativity, social justice and other so-called soft values compared to only focusing on hard sciences. We should not neglect humanities nor the human factors and I think a shift from the EU in this direction is long overdue and most welcomed,” says Moos.

Magali Ballatore, a research fellow in sociology at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium couldn’t agree more with Moos’s theory: “It’s incredibly hard to find ways of measuring quality in education,” she states.

“And there is a lack of studies concerning how to compare curricula, students’ and teachers’ organised and non-organised mobility, how to measure what one really learns etc. So far we’ve measured a good education system based on whether it makes people fit for the labour market, without thinking that it should help first and foremost in making young people become good citizens.”

 

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