Does higher education lead to unemployment?
I was back in the Baltics earlier this month, giving workshops in Riga in Latvia and in Vilnius and Kaunas in Lithuania. I was talking about two of the fastest growing Cambridge English Exams there—and, indeed, around the world – Cambridge Young Learner English (YLE) Starters, Movers and Flyers tests and International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
While I was there, my local colleague, who also teaches at a higher education, university-level college, participated in a local television round table debate programme in Lithuanian. The curious question they were discussing was ‘Does higher education lead to unemployment?’
Of course unemployment is a potential problem for everyone, but perhaps especially for young 20+ adults just out of formal secondary schooling or university higher education and often looking for that first full-time position. (Boy, am I glad that my son has a job!) In the European Union countries, unemployment in that category averages about 20%—but apparently it’s at around 40% in Spain and Portugal.
The event I attended in Kaunas took place in the impressive Business Leaders Centre which gave me a chance to remind the teachers that they too are leaders. Teachers are educational leaders leading their learners not only to better English and higher IELTS scores, but also to better future job opportunities in business and other fields.
Because doesn’t it seem that higher education usually gives young people better chances going forward in their future careers? Of course many young people shun vocational-technical education and some also get several higher education degrees (My daughter is probably going for a PhD.) and then think themselves over-qualified for some jobs. In the Baltics, the problem is compounded by the fact that young people are often taking IELTS to go study in an English-speaking university or country; often, they then stay there or move to a different country with their university degrees. So the overall population is decreasing as more people, often highly qualified, emigrate and leave the Baltic countries.
Most of the IELTS candidates in the Baltics are taking the Academic rather than the General Training module, aiming to achieve a high band score of 6.0 to 7.5 (B2 to C1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). We therefore looked at the Complete IELTS coursebooks at those levels with the teachers, and at various IELTS supplementary materials including Grammar and Vocabulary for IELTS, plus IELTS Online Practice Tests and apps.
In the Lithuanian television programme, by the way, the television audience was asked to send (and pay for) a SMS text message voting either 1 for Taip (Yea) or 2 for Ne (Nay) in response to the question. In the end, the ‘nays’ won by about 150 to 100. So Lithuanians in general agree with me: I don’t think that higher education leads to unemployment.
Looking forward to reading and replying to your comments and especially seeing your votes in the above poll while on the road or on my return to Paris,
Gary Anderson, Cambridge ELT International Teacher Trainer