“What AlmaLaurea does, is fill an information gap and the tools it makes available could be beneficial to other Countries, too”. This is the opinion of Elizabeth King, Director of Education in the Human Development Network, Washington. In Rome, where she participated in the Conference “After the higher education degree: paths of study and work-based learning in Italy and in the international context”, King explained why knowledge transfer between young people and businesses is a crucial factor which can shake the labour market. She also referred to the World Bank’s policies in the field of education and higher education as a key to speed up the process of solving the global crisis: “The higher the number of graduates, the higher the number of skilled and knowledgeable workers. This is exactly the type of human resource that a country must be able to find in order to recover after a period of crisis”.
How to you rate AlmaLaurea? Do you think that this model can be exported to other Countries? If so, which are in your opinion the most suitable countries for the implementation of such system?
“I believe that, as in Italy, other countries also have major information asymmetries. One of the reasons why young people do not find satisfactory jobs or employers have difficulties recruiting young people to fill their vacancies is precisely this shortage of information. One of these asymmetries is that the employers do not know the skills of young people or workers well enough. Another very important information asymmetry is that young people do not know very much about the universities they attend and their quality level. Then there is a third asymmetry, that is that young job-seekers in fact do not know much about the job they are trying to find. Therefore, what AlmaLaurea does is fill in a very important set of information gaps. I believe that such gaps are common also to other countries, this is why I think that the instruments made available by AlmaLaurea in Italy could be equally beneficial also to other countries. One of the necessary conditions to collect this large amount of information and make it as rich and useful as possible is certainly the openness, on the part of universities, to enter information into the database. Another condition is that the students and the graduates are willing to share information. I do not think this is a problem anymore these days: young people are always on Facebook and other communication platforms. However, if in the most advanced countries there are no technology problems, in the less developed countries access of young people to the technological tools is more of a problem.”
What is the economic and social role of higher education and post-graduate training after the global crisis?
“I believe that, after the global crisis, higher education is one of the ways by which a country can recover more quickly, because the higher the number of graduates in a country, the higher the number of skilled and knowledgeable workers. This is exactly the type of human resource which a country must be able to find after a period of crisis. One of the characteristics of the economic downturn we have been through and that some countries are still going through is that it destroys jobs: crisis destroys the labour market and changes the very nature of the available jobs. Our hope is that the graduates will have the necessary flexibility to adapt to the kind of jobs which survive after a crisis. Young individuals who have more limited skills than those hopefully acquired by graduates will end up having more difficulties finding a job after the crisis. They will have to train again. Well, I think that a fast process of recovery is the greatest contribution that graduates can make to our countries”.
Which are the main policies currently promoted by the World Bank in the field of education?
“Precisely this year we are celebrating the first anniversary since the beginning of our new strategy for education within the World Bank group. The key concept in our strategy is the importance of learning, knowledge and skills in order to get access to a higher development level. In the world, including many poor countries, we have been successful in increasing the rates of access to basic education, even among women and girls. Instead, I believe our failure was that the learning levels have not increased as much as the access rates. It is for this reason that we would like to stress the importance that young people learn what they are supposed to learn. The benefits of education are not limited to the fact that children and teens sit in a class-room: they must really learn! Education-based knowledge and skills are very important to us. This is the key message which also implies that we need to invest in young people from a very early stage, before they even go to school. Small children need the type of stimuli which their parents can offer them at home. They need to be nourished, looked after and taken care of also in terms of health so that they are prepared to go to school. We need to invest ahead of time and in an intelligent way. Especially countries with a low level of education do not have enough resources for unlimited investments and the parents and the families only have limited possibilities. Then, we need to make investments for all. By this I mean that we need to think about girls, too, who in poor countries do not go to school. Investing for all means that we need to think of young people, of those with disabilities, those who live in remote rural areas and have to cover long distances to be able to go to school. We need to think of minorities, even religious minorities, who may not have the kind of resources necessary to go to school”.
The AlmaLaurea surveys highlight the fact that the graduates’ employment conditions are strongly affected by variables which depend on the family and the social background but also on the local context in which the graduates live. This is the situation in Italy, but do you think it could be the same also in other countries?
“Yes, absolutely. The same applies to other countries, too. The local social and economic conditions, the family background and the individual characteristics are all aspects which guide the occupational choices, both in Italy and elsewhere. The economic conditions and the social status affect the ability of young people to get as much training as possible and this, in turn, determines their future employment prospects. The parents’ level of education, the family’s income and economic conditions are all very important factors. In many instances, they are even more important than the level of the higher education institutions in determining the educational outcome. And, in determining this outcome, the economic conditions also determine the type of job and occupation that the young people will eventually have access to. However, also the local context and the labour market conditions have an influence on the available jobs and the income levels that young people may aim at once they enter the job market”.