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CHAMBER COLUMN

Education at the heart

FOREIGN direct investment (FDI) is and will continue to be one of the core drivers of economic development in Slovakia. Thus the aspiration of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) is for Slovakia to become a premium FDI destination in Europe for international companies by 2020. To win the FDI race, Slovakia should carry out the ten most important steps vital for achieving this vision with one of them being the need to invest in education.

FOREIGN direct investment (FDI) is and will continue to be one of the core drivers of economic development in Slovakia. Thus the aspiration of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) is for Slovakia to become a premium FDI destination in Europe for international companies by 2020. To win the FDI race, Slovakia should carry out the ten most important steps vital for achieving this vision with one of them being the need to invest in education.

A workforce with the relevant skills, and one that supports innovation, is a necessity. The future needs of business must be aligned with the future education our children will receive. The level of education is a key differentiator amongst competing economies for FDI; therefore a focused investment in education on the next generation FDI areas will play an essential part in securing FDI.

At AmCham, the Committee for Business-Academic Cooperation covers an initiative aimed at contributing to the reform of the Slovak education system and its effective linking with labour market requirements. Within the initiative, which received official support from the Ministry of Education, the committee provides a platform enabling member companies, representatives of elementary and secondary schools, universities and industry associations to look for common solutions to the practical problems that arise when the worlds of academia and business interact.

The committee has worked out several solutions for the current education system, one of which is 2012: The Year of Education, by which AmCham wants to contribute to meeting the goals Robert Fico’s government formulated in its programme for its four-year term. These goals include developing a comprehensive education system comprising the whole process from the pre-school level to lifelong learning. The government also wants to promote the development of an education system directly linked with practice, with the focus on social and technological modernisation. The government also intends to provide conditions to boost education in the natural sciences and technology as well as to promote the development of financial education.

The AmCham committee has identified and introduces one of the problems, which is the non-existence of an apolitical professional institute for analysis and forecast of the development of the Slovak society and economy, and proposed a solution.

The education system should in the most efficient manner prepare quality graduates in line with the expected social development and thus provide support for the strategic direction of Slovakia towards a knowledge-based economy. A major obstacle on this path is the non-existence of an agency that would be responsible for the assessment and forecasting of the education system with the aim of recommending measures to increase its responsiveness to the needs of the economy. This leads to a situation when suggestions for changes in schools and the education system, despite being quite far-reaching, do not rely on reliable forecasts and visions of development leading to the strengthening of the industrial and R&D base as well as innovation potential.

To fill in this gap AmCham proposes shaping a professional, apolitical, professionally-respected prognostic and analytical authority to be co-responsible for specification of the vision of development of Slovakia’s economy and sector priorities; continuous analysis of global, European and regional trends from the perspective of economics, demography, migration etc.; forecasts regarding the Slovak labour market in relation to the economy’s HR requirements at the macroeconomic level and reflecting the findings when preparing the alternative labour market development scenarios and the related requirements for qualification and skills profile of graduates of all sorts of schools, levels of study and subjects.

In combination with outputs of the monitoring of graduates’ employment prospects, AmCham recommends securing adequate transposition of the forecasts while continually adjusting the educational structure in compliance with the needs of the society. These can be achieved by re-allocation of resources for priority types of study, levels of study and groups of majors and the limiting of public funding in case the studying of additional numbers of students exceeds the state-defined needs and capacities, when the graduate cannot find appropriate employment/practical application, or perhaps when the quality of instruction does not correspond to the strictly controlled criteria.

This column is prepared in cooperation with AmCham, the American Chamber of Commerce in Slovakia, www.amcham.sk.

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