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Our View: Government needs to address low graduate employment  

EVERY so often, figures are released showing a high percentage of youth unemployment. As we have written in the past, one explanation for this is that too many youngsters acquire university degrees and there are not enough jobs for graduates. A report issued by the European Commission on Thursday shed more light on the matter. It found that Cyprus had the fourth lowest employment rate for recent graduates – 71.5 per cent – when the overall EU average was 82 per cent. Still, Cyprus had a significantly higher rate than the bottom countries – Greece (52 per cent) and Italy (55.2 per cent).

The report also confirmed the view that there were too many graduates in Cyprus. In 2017 tertiary educational attainment reached 55.8 per cent, the highest ever for Cyprus and well above the EU average of 39.9 per cent. Apart from the big supply of graduates that cannot be absorbed by the economy there was also a problem with the degrees obtained. One third of all graduates had degrees in business, administration and law which was by far the highest percentage in the EU, but there was an untypically small proportion of youngsters studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

This highlights another of the causes for high graduate unemployment. Too many youths opt for relatively less demanding degree courses in search of an office job, avoiding the more demanding STEM courses, which equip a graduate with skills that are more attractive to employers, such as problem-solving, mental discipline, a practical approach to issues not to mention an indication that the person is not fazed by hard work. Perhaps our education system does not cultivate a love of the sciences because of inadequate teaching and poor facilities (no labs), but this is an issue that the education ministry should be addressing instead of discussing whether there should be an intercom at the school gates.

In other words, the quality of the degree may also play a part in graduates not finding a job. It could be awarded by a university that is of poor standard or it may be in a course like business, media studies or marketing that an employer does not regard as rigorous enough. Having said this, there is a tendency for degree-worship in Cyprus with a tendency of overlooking highly intelligent, motivated and capable youngsters because they have not been to university. Possession of a degree is no guarantee that an individual has any of these qualities, which is another reason why a significant number of recent graduates are unemployed.

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