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Change schools' funding, says think tank

THE JOBLESS rate in Slovakia has been affected by many different factors. These range from the economic crisis to the less-than-perfect state of the education system, according to Michal Páleník, director of the Employment Institute, a labour-market think tank. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Páleník about the high jobless rate in Slovakia and measures that could help to reduce it.

THE JOBLESS rate in Slovakia has been affected by many different factors. These range from the economic crisis to the less-than-perfect state of the education system, according to Michal Páleník, director of the Employment Institute, a labour-market think tank. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Páleník about the high jobless rate in Slovakia and measures that could help to reduce it.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): The jobless rate among young people in Slovakia is one of the highest in the European Union. What are the main reasons that young people cannot find jobs?
Michal Páleník (MP):
On one hand it is the result of the crisis, during which new jobs were not created, so graduates who entered the labour market did not find vacant positions to fill.
On the other hand it is maybe also the result of the education system, where the number of university students has increased relatively, so those who remain on the labour market were among the worse [students], something which dramatically increased the [graduate] jobless rate.
And, of course, the biggest problem is the absence of a connection between the needs of the labour market and education. Schools are persistently producing graduates who are not useful in the labour market.

TSS: What tools might help decrease the unemployment rate of young people?
MP:
First, it is a change in the financing of the education system, so that schools are motivated to educate useful graduates. This means that the state should have the courage to define the education programmes that are preferred and give them higher subsidies. At the moment it pays a similar subsidy per student, regardless what he or she studies. Second, it is the continuous modification of curricula, which should suit the needs of the labour market.

Certainly, [another way is] further education of those who are currently unemployed, which is absolutely symbolic [at the moment]. Typically, about 3-5 percent of jobless people attend education programmes at labour offices. This number should increase to at least 50 percent.
There can be other tools as well, such as support for small businesses, some kind of advice for novice farmers, simplification of accounting rules, and similar efforts.

TSS: One factor regularly cited as a problem in Slovak higher education is that universities are turning out more humanities graduates than technical ones. What, in your opinion, could motivate students to choose technical education?
MP:
It is not about opening more technical than humanities programmes. The state must say how much it will give to humanities and how much to the technical [education programmes], and set [student] limits for independent specialisations. We have not published this yet, but we are proposing a change in the financing system. University students would be provided with a loan from which they could finance their tuition, things connected with their schooling, accommodation, food, books, etc. This loan would then be paid off from their taxes. A person with a normal salary should be able to pay back [the loan] in 10 to 20 years. It would be a normal loan, so if the person is jobless or works abroad it would have to be paid off in a different way.

Nobody is talking [about the fact] that many graduates, who we pay for from our taxes, finish school and go to work abroad, in fast-food outlets. This is, first, a loss of human capital and, second, a loss of the money invested in them for five years.

At the moment, students are choosing programmes which are easy to study and which are attended by their friends. The less-favoured education programmes are those which are more difficult [to study], [but] which are useful for the labour market. People are avoiding them and are following the path of least resistance.

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