European Decline: Is A University Degree Still Worth It?

Europe’s job seekers can expect tough years ahead. Cedefop, an EU agency, predicts slow employment growth will continue to come down disproportionately hard on the educated youth. Some are even asking if a university degree is still worth the time and mon

Students demonstrating last October in Florence (Collettivo Politico Scienze Politiche)
Students demonstrating last October in Florence (Collettivo Politico Scienze Politiche)
Florian Eder

BERLIN -- The euro crisis' impact on the job market will extend for at least the next decade, with only eight million new jobs expected to be created in the European Union between now and 2020. These are the central findings of a new report by the European Center for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop), an E.U. agency headquartered in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Cedefop director Christian Lettmayr says eight million new jobs over a 10-year period is "very few," and warns that development could slow down even further. The job stagnation, which will be concentrated in southern Europe where millions of young people are without jobs, challenges a long-accepted assumptions about the benefits of pursuing a higher education.

Cedefop estimates that on average, college grads and skilled workers in the European Union have an easier time finding work than their less qualified counterparts. However, in 2020, only 37% of available jobs will require higher qualifications. "And the problem is that in countries with very high unemployment like Greece, Italy, and Spain, that figure would not apply," says Lettmayr. "In those countries, the differences are disappearing."

The Cedefop head sees an imbalance in E.U. countries between supply and demand as regards those with high levels of skill or education. "The highly qualified are pushing people out of jobs that they are over-qualified for."

There are very few winners in the situation – with the possible short-term exception of the employer who is getting more for less. Lettmayr fears that more and more people are reaching the conclusion that, over the space of a working life, there will be too little return to warrant the investment in education.

Lettmayr, however, warns against drawing hasty conclusions from this exceptional, crisis-induced situation and thus risk degrading entire regions to a second-class job market status. "Levels of education and qualifications have to be increased in the economically weak countries, and not – driven by austerity measures – made even worse," he says.

The present over-qualified generation should find encouragement, says Lettmayr, by not focusing solely on their own country but instead viewing all of Europe as one large job market. "A significant number of people in Greece who are presently training to be doctors, or engineers, or computer scientists, will find jobs in northern Europe." That goes for skilled workers too, albeit to a lesser extent, Lettmayr adds. The Austrian-born Cedefop director admits, nevertheless, that "Europeans willing to work in other countries are still relatively few and far between."

Problems for the production line

Unwillingness to relocate is not the only problem for Europe's job market. Another stumbling block is the fact that Europeans don't choose the subject they want to study based on demand in the jobs available in that sector, according to Cedefop. The average European, in other words, trains to be a hairdresser, a sales person, historian or expert in Romance languages with the knowledge (or perhaps in happy ignorance of the fact) that there aren't a lot of outlets out there for whatever his or her chosen field is.

"There's a disconnect between supply and demand," says Lettmayr. "Too few young people are studying engineering of various kinds, math, and natural sciences. That's a risk for economic development and for Europe's competitiveness."

In the first two years after the crisis exploded in 2008, 5.5 million jobs were lost in Europe. Not only is new job creation not going to redress that situation, but according to the Cedefop study, there will be a change too in how those jobs are distributed, with most new posts coming at the very top and very bottom of the job market spectrum.

The demand for general workers and support personnel is growing all over Europe – less in construction or car manufacturing than in health care: aging societies are beginning to impact the job market. Jobs requiring middling levels of education or skills are the ones losing out.

The E.U. agency sees the demise of the production line: "The ones really losing out in Europe are those with jobs based in routine. There is less and less call for production line workers," says Lettmayr.

The number of new jobs in machinery and assembly of all kinds will diminish, according to Cedefop. That also goes for office work. Secretarial and clerking jobs should decrease by a good 1.5 million in Europe by 2020 – only outdone by the decrease in manual labor jobs expected to go down by some 2 million.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Collettivo Politico Scienze Politiche

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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