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The Challenges of European Education

09 July 2012

Choice of study and study success highly determined by the family background of the young people. In Italy as in Germany. More student mobility, more English language courses into the curriculum, the creation of an European labor market at academic level. And about AlmaLaurea "AlmaLaurea might help to improve the overview about possible academic candidates and increase the competition. It is a fantastic project". Interview with Hans Peter Blossfeld, Director of the Institute of Longitudinal Studies in Education, Bamberg INBIL (Germany).

AlmaLaurea data show how, in the Italian case, being born in a "good family" can provides young people with comparative advantages at educational level and later in entering the labour market. What is, in your opinion, the role of family background in education and earning differentials in Germany and across European countries?
"Even after massive educational expansion, family background plays a significant role in educational attainment in Germany. The influence of social background is decreasing over the life course: at earlier transitions (e.g., the transition from primary to secondary school) mainly parent’s education is of central importance. The role of economic factors has declined here over time. At later transitions in the life course (transition from school to university) the impact of social background is smaller. However, since more and more young people reach Abitur, across cohorts, there is an increasing impact of family background (mainly education of the family) on whether children opt for a professional college (the Fachhhochschule) or the university afterwards, and within the university, whether they opt for the traditional professions (medicine, law etc.) or not. Children from upper social classes are studying more at the university and there in the traditional professions. Also social capital still plays an important role in the course of educational decision making over the life course".

In some sectors it is generally believed that the transformation of universities from "élite" organizations to "mass" organizations has resulted in too many graduates not sufficiently trained. In your opinion is it true that there are "too many" graduates? Is it a reasonable question or a misplaced one?
"Of course, with an increasing proportion of students who study at the tertiary system, the achievement distribution of these people changes over time, too. The distribution becomes broader. Younger groups of graduates are therefore less selective groups. However, even among the youngest cohorts, most of these young people are still highly qualified and are able to study at the tertiary system and later on work in academic positions".

What would you suggest to a young person who has chosen to engage in higher education?
"Continue and select the field of study you like most. If you like your study, you will be able to achieve and to find an appropriate job".

What are the main policies that the universities should require to the nation states in order to promote the internationalization of higher education?
"Students should be forced to spend some time (at least a semester or even a year) during their studies abroad. Bologna was helpful in this respect. One should also announce academic jobs in the tertiary system Europe wide and recruit more scholars and scientists from abroad. It would be very important to create a European labor market for academics. I also would introduce more English language courses into the curriculum. English is the lingua franca in the academic world today. If it comes to the appointment of professors, there should be a European wide competition".

What are, in your opinion, the main similarities and differentials between the Italian and the German labour market structure and the recruitment systems in place? Do you think that AlmaLaurea can be an effective model to be implemented and used in Germany too?
"Both are still to a large extent "insider labor markets". (Less qualified) insiders are too much shielded and protected, (highly qualified) young people have to struggle too much to get it. This has to be changed. We have to give the young generation a chance. AlmaLaurea might help to improve the overview about possible academic candidates and increase the competition".

How do you rate AlmaLaurea? Do you believe that AlmaLaurea can be a positive model to bring together universities and research centers from the Euro-Mediterranean area?
"I like AlmaLaurea. I think it is a fantastic project. However, AlmaLaurea has to make sure that data protection is effective. There are very sensitive data that can also be misused*".

*Read the interview with Giusella Finocchiaro, lawyer, Italian correspondent for the European Commission and Italian representative at United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. "AlmaLaurea complies with the Italian legislation and now Italy is among the strictest countries when it comes to the personal data protection code".  

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