Friday, 07 November 2014 00:00

What is a university degree for?

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Education to Employment
Photo courtesy of Young European Leadership
YEC delegates at the Education to Employment panel in Brussels last month


As part of E&M's coverage of Young European Council 2014, Petya Yankova attended the Education to Employment panel and gained an insight to future policy plans.

How to achieve the Europe 2020 benchmarks and even go beyond them was the ambitious topic of the Education to Employment panel at the Young European Council, which took place at the end of last month. With jobs, growth and investment being top priorities for the brand new Juncker College of Commissioners, the young delegates had the substantial task of solving real-life problems.

When even the average unpaid or at best underpaid internship offer seems to ask for bachelor students with five years' professional experience and fluency in six languages, many young people have little to hope for after graduation. Hordes of brilliant graduates are faced with the dilemma of either accepting a temporary low-paid position in hospitality or – well, not much else. At the same time, employers complain they have numerous positions open but no one qualified enough to take these. What does this drastic mismatch stem from and what can we as young people do about it? YEC participants in the Education to Employment panel agreed that this is a question of major importance and attempted to give it a clear and concrete answer during the four days of the Council.

University = solution?

Finnish sword and hat
Photo courtesy of the University of Oulu
Students in Finland and Sweden can look forward to receiving a sword and hat upon graduation.

The rigidity of the educational system in Europe, which incorporates learning innovations at a snail's pace, was recognised as being at the core of the problem at the very beginning of negotiations. In her opening speech at the Council of the European Union, the chair of the Education to Employment panel Nadia Tjahja made the case for focusing "on an education that suits skills and personality", instead of herding all young people in a "one-size-fits-all" programmes.

The delegates quickly discovered that although they all shared a vision of improving the education system in Europe, their starting points differed. At graduation, for instance, Finnish and Swedish students are presented with a sword and a hat, while graduates from countries in southern Europe receive a laurel wreath and the first reminder of their five-digit loan. The situation is even graver for students who studied abroad as living costs pile up on top of tuition fees.

It is not only the end result that varies from country, but also the process itself. The terms "alternative education", "apprenticeship" and "applied science" carry one meaning in Finland, and another in Austria. As the Italian delegate Michele D'Aliessi commented: "What university means to you may not be what university means to me."

"The skills mismatch should be addressed at the EU level by promoting mobility, building the capacity of employment agencies and recognising skills acquired through informal education"

"I think universities should provide way more than just great content and knowledge of facts and models. They should be the centre of our personal development. Universities should evolve into teaching how to learn while helping young students to understand themselves and find out what they want to become." During the negotiations of continiuing education, D'Aliessi emerged as a strong supporter of the online educational models which have become popular in the last few years. Due to these self-study opportunities, students should in his vision of the near future "be autonomous in furthering their education thanks to online resources and MOOCs [massive open online courses]". He is already working on a non-profit project called Ympact to further the entrepreneurial education of young startup founders.

Counting (on) education

A holistic approach to education was one of the first points which united the diverse group of delegates and this is also evident in the recommendations. "The skills mismatch should be addressed at the EU level by promoting mobility, building the capacity of employment agencies and recognising skills acquired through informal education," the panel stated in one of its conclusions. Once again, Tjahja underlined the importance of synchronising learning process with work requirements. "We need to move away from the bias that university is the only way to be successful."

Brainstorming YEC 14
Photo: Petya Yankova (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Brainstorming educational policy.

The delegates found practical training a vital part of any curriculum. Hopeful glances were cast towards the Europe 2020 Quality Framework for Traineeships adopted in March this year, which still has the potential to become something more than an attractive online document with a promising title.

Emma McIlveen, a legal consultant from Northern Ireland, is looking forward to the implementation of her panel's recommendations.  "I would like to see the European Union encourage member states to better engage and work within the existing programmes and structures which have been established to address the skills mismatch. If this was done, I believe that young people would find it easier to transition from education to employment."

What emerged from the panel discussions was an underlying trust in European programmes such as Erasmus +, but also the concern that what is put down on paper by decision-makers does not reach Europe's young people. The prevalent sentiment was that there is still a lot to be done and young people should be at the forefront of both drawing up policies for education and employment and implementing them.

The first step in this direction is already being made. After the end of the council, delegates will meet and present their recommendations to local and national authorities. It is expected that the results of these meetings will be discussed and built upon at the second edition of the event. E&M will keep an eye out for developments because we believe in young people’s right to be heard.




Last modified on Wednesday, 12 November 2014 07:30
Petya Yankova

Petya Yankova is an English Literature graduate and passionate traveller. Besides being a regular contributor to E&M, books, plane/train tickets and foreign languages are her thing.

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