General News, Academics and lack of skilled labour: the education doctrine of the OECD under review, 09.10.2014

Academics and lack of skilled labour: the education doctrine of the OECD under review

Is there a paradigm shift looming in the education policy? The Federal Minister for Education and Science wants to ensure that achievements in universities will be transferred to vocational education and training. Dropouts, particularly those studying engineering, should profit from this. Almost every second a mechanical engineering student drops out early. If these ex-students have gathered knowledge at a university or college, for example, in mathematics or physics, there is almost no good argument for them learning the same again at a vocational school. The initiative of the Minister therefore appeals to common sense but it contradicts the prevailing theory of educational policy which seeks to acquire a higher quota of academics. The OECD spreads this pledge with strong diligence in its studies, it demands the expansion of third level  education. If this didn’t happen there would be a lack of highly qualified professionals that would threaten economic progress and wealth. Germany, in particular, is said to be crawling behind. For many years the OECD severely criticised the quota of academics, which it deemed too low. Particularly during “silly season”, the media exaggerated this so called “policy lesson”, pushing for politicians to demand more investments in education. They understood this of course as “academisation” according to  European demands. By the year 2020 the quota of 30 - 34 year olds with a third level degree should rise to at least 40%. Germany has gone quite near to this goal. The quota for college starters has risen since the late 1990s from 30% to almost 55% in 2012. The target quota could be sooner reached if there were less college dropouts. So why does the Minister want to get young people into vocational training? From the quota ideology perspective, her goal should be to lead them to a college degree. As learned from high school degrees that would mean to lower the standards. However, it is exactly this  that poses extreme risks to economical and technical key disciplines, like electronics. What’s also important is that vocational training gives those interested in technology alternative ways to develop their talents.

Additionally to traditional training (car mechanics for example), new professional training has emerged like mechatronics. Companies are looking urgently for qualified, skilled labour in these branches. The demand for such labour exceeds the supply by far as the statistics of the Bundesagentur für Arbeit show. For every 100 openings for mechatronics there are only 41 jobless in that sector; for electrical engineers, the ratio is 100 to 56. Economic researchers see an urgent shortcoming when there is less than 100 jobless for 100 jobs. Such ratio is given nowhere in the sector of “language, economy and society” with “higher demands”. This means there is no lack but rather an oversupply of people trained legally, economically or linguistically. Therefore it is difficult for many of them to find well-paid positions that correspond to their level of training. The so-called “educational dividend” cannot be realised, let alone cause personal frustration. In general, the chances for German youth on the labour market are relatively good while their counterparts in southern Europe suffer from horrid youth unemployment. Countries like Spain and France produce academics in excess as well as impractical educational systems and ever new records in youth unemployment. In the face of this disaster, German politicians travel across Europe as development workers for vocational training, while in Germany the run on colleges has widened the lack of apprentices and endangered the proven dual-training system. In conclusion: in educational policy a paradigm shift is necessary to get away from the theory of “Akademizierungs Ideologie”.

The ministers new initiative is something hopeful on the horizon.

(1) See :
(2) Critical to these established teachings since the 1960s: Rainer Bölling, “Wohin der Akademisierungswahn langfristig führt”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from 24.5.2013 (Bildungswelten).
(3) This argument is based on positive correlations between the gross national product per capita and the relative attendance of schools of secondary and tertiary education. Such relationships were derived around 1960 by the education economist, Friedrich Edding konstatier and from the demand for a drastically higher rate of high school graduates in Germany. The book "The education disaster" spread this message in 1964, it made a tremendous impact in the public and politicians. Edding had noted, however, that there could be a point "where the curve of the relative high school attendance should flatten out, otherwise unsuitable talents would push the overall level and make the expenditures uneconomic". Such concerns have remained unknown so far to the OECD, such as education researcher Bölling affirmed in his readable contribution. Ibid
(4) See:
(5) See:
(6) Vera Demary / Susanne Seyda : Bottleneck Analysis 2013 ( published by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology ), p.38
(7) Ibid., p.32
(8) See:
(9) The bottleneck analysis in 2011 shows that the biggest bottlenecks prevail not in the professions but in practical and technical career fields and even more so in elderly care and nursing. See: "Mangel an Akademikern oder an Fachkräften?" (figure below). However due to the demographic situation, these shortages will increase - a problem that growing student ratios would only worsen even more. That a more academic education - in contrast to the assumptions of the OECD - creates in itself prosperity or employment, shows the comparison between countries on one hand such as Austria and Germany and on the other hand France and Spain. See: "Formales Bildungsniveau und Arbeitslosigkeit" (figure below)