Noora Lampinen (25, Finland)
Today education is no guarantee for employment. In the past, higher education and obtaining a masters degree from a University secured a job path for life. Today, recent university graduates face refusals and end up seeking unemployment benefits, with the shadow of enormous loans taken to finance the studies and unpaid internships. This unfortunately depicts a reality all over Europe as the number of unemployed, highly skilled recent graduates is growing at an alarming rate.
Over and over again Finnish schools excel in PISA studies and are ranked highest in the world when comparing the quality of education. However, as increasingly many pursue higher education and as jobs are being cut, the number of unemployed with a university degree is rising fast. In Finland at the beginning of the year, 33 000 educated people were without jobs, 27 percent more than the year before. The gap between the higher and lower educated people outside the labor market is narrowing. Is there an incentive in studying five years for an MA if you in the end cannot find a job that matches your education? Are we becoming over-educated?
Pursuing a career through vocational training is generally seen as less ambitious and less worthy, though traditional jobs such as working as a carpenter or plumber are often more lucrative. More youth should choose this path and be educated in entrepreneurship. Matching education with the need of the labor market is evidently of high importance. Thus it is vital schools wake up to the reality that their task is to prepare young people to the labor market and give them the right tools, not just teach how to memorize facts and figures, repeat and duplicate.
During times of crises faith in the future must be kept, however gloomy the economy seems. Budgets for education should not be cut in any Member State, as that leads to greater problems in the long run. Finland made investments instead of cutbacks in education during the recession in the beginning of 1990s and it paid off. Economic difficulties are the least the fault of pupils and investing in education and youth, as cliché as it may sound is an investment in the future.
One of the highlights of EU accomplishments is in my opinion the Erasmus exchange program that enables students to study a semester or two in another EU member state. The deal between the European Parliament and Council brokered last week concerning the future of Erasmus was good news, as it gives 4 million students the opportunity to take part of the scheme, which is double the amount of the previous period. The new “Erasmus+” program will bind together the exchange program and the EUs other education programs and hopefully lessen bureaucracy and administration hurdles. Having the possibility to study abroad motivates and enriches education.
Germany with its apprenticeships and low levels of unemployment is a model for the rest of Europe. Feelings of indifference and giving up are of the worst things for a young person’s future, thus we need you Mrs. Merkel to stand behind the European project. This does not mean Germany or other net payer Members States should take the bill, but to show that there is a future for the Union with solidarity and responsibility.