Higher education in Greece

From a recent article:

“He says his name is George but declines to give his last name. He’s 29 years old, holds a master’s degree in economics, and has been unemployed for a year and a half, not counting the five months he worked as a street cleaner.

“It’s more difficult for the highly qualified,” he says. “The market thinks we will cost too much.” He’s applying for a position as a secretary, a job that requires a high school degree. For a couple of minutes, he and Stratigaki discuss whether his education will be an asset or a liability, and then their names are called.”

The article is here, sad throughout.  For the pointer I thank George Hawkey.


'holds a master’s degree in economics'

Well, we all know that anyone that earns a useless degree deserves contempt for picking such a worthless area of study.

I am Greek and a tech employer who interviews ~50-60 fresh graduates per year. What the article does not mention is that a) Greek higher education over-produces graduates in all fields, especially professional and science-related (yes, even the dismal ones), b) other than a few schools (not universities but individual departments, even chairs within some universities) the quality of graduates is appalling.

I know the term is shocking or maybe demeaning to some, but that's the reality: less than 10% of graduates are hire-able by any sort of modern firm. In recent years, most of that top 10% is simply not even looking for work here and emigrating immediately upon graduation. So, right now we have open spots to fill that we simply cannot find qualified people for. That's the (even worse) reality: this structural unemployment cannot simply be corrected by growth alone and will last for more than a generation --until education shapes up, the economy collapses or both.

+1 In the Indian context a very similar degree-inflation story holds today. I've seen candidates with a Masters degree in Engineering that couldn't calculate the area of a circle right. The industry responds appropriately, with a lot of MS's doing jobs that'd really only need a high school education.

I do appreciate that Greece has other problems. My point is, don't go by the degree alone.

Yes and no.

There's certainly the possibility of degrees' inflation.

But, otoh, some of the training ought to be carried out on the job.

In general, I think that the take-away point is that telling the workforce to upgrade their skills is a nice little trick played by supply-siders to blame people for "not taking responsibility". As I said before, in France, we have pretty good education with plenty of graduates and that doesn't stop unemployment...



Indeed training ought to be carried out on the job. So you hire a smart kid out of high school who doesn't have any pretensions of knowing anything. I train folks, and the most difficult thing for those who work for me is coming in with some expertise and figuring out that they know nothing. I feel bad for them, they wasted how many years and how many dollars. Unfortunately sometimes they are unemployable because of some farce telling them that they know something.

There’s certainly the possibility of degrees’ inflation.

But, otoh, some of the training ought to be carried out on the job.

If your actual education level is closer to a high school graduate than a college graduate, your pay range is going to be closer to a high school graduates than to a college graduates.

In general, I think that the take-away point is that telling the workforce to upgrade their skills is a nice little trick played by supply-siders to blame people for “not taking responsibility”.

This statement is emotional more than factual. If the applicants don't have the skill sets that the position requires, that's not the fault of the company doing the hiring. It might be in their best interest to train employees or it might make more sense to just leave the position vacant.

In addition, phenomenally large effort and time would be needed to train even a decently good high school student apprentice to the level where he can independently help design a microchip or spec. a distillation column.

Posters are underestimating the utility of a good, receptive BS engineer. Not everyone is, yes, but the good ones are worth it.

In India it is considered scandalous to suggest all dead-end academic programmes be shutdown and faculty pensioned off. Why, it is considered scandalous in some institutions to even suggest the curriculum be updated. The result: unemployed and unemployable graduates . I know economics students who don't even know how inflation is estimated in India or what current account deficit and fiscal deficit mean. And they are gold medal winners !!

Again, if these folks don't get their economics MS do they spontaneously combust? Would you rather they be on the street 2 years earlier or have a sociology degree?

I call that a hacky-sack degree. And many an American student would prefer to spend an extra two years honing their hacky-sack skills on the concourse versus going out and getting a job.

Andrew asks: " Would you rather they be on the street 2 years earlier or have a sociology degree? " A useless university education, including in economics, in poor economies like India results in frustrated youth who think their degree entitles them to well-paid jobs which they are incapable of performing. I am saying that the curriculum should be marketable, but many teachers in India hate that very idea because it means more work. Teaching stuff like general equilibrium, even if it is taught well, does not help most of the students in the job market . Education in high theory should be restricted to a handful of institutes in poor countries, with colleges focusing on imparting practical skills

Love hacky-sack degree, but wonder if that's dating me. One thing to note, however, is I've run into a number of people (usually older and working also) who continue to take classes because once you stop being a college student you have to start paying off student loans, and they don't feel they can do that. So instead they just take out more debt to take whatever number of classes they need to in order to qualify as a continuing student.

I interviewed fresh graduates in electrical engineering in the U.S. who didn't know what Ohm's law was. Sometimes, a college degree is proof that you can go through a 4 yr program and survive, not that you're an expert. I'd be surprised if the problem were lack of skills rather than lack of opportunity.

I question this a bit since I had one EE course and recalled that it was V=IR, although I had to Google it to make sure ;)

Dude, it's I = V/R

Like I said, I only had the one course they shouldn't have made me take in the first place!

(but thanks for reminding me what it was like to talk to an EE ;)

If only there were some field of mathematics that provided its students tools in converting one of these forms of the formula to another.

Andrew', I assume Jan's comment was a joke, since your answer was correct.

V=IR equals I = V/R equals R=V/I

They are all functionally equivalent.

I ran into a 4 year electrical engineering graduate who did not know what the difference between a neutral and a ground was. And his task was to trace out the wiring and come up with with a line diagram. You would think he could have figured it out just by looking at the wiring in front of him. It did not make me feel very comfortable with having him poke around in live electrical boxes.

There is always hope. He could go to Washington to make policy.

Having him poke around in live electrical boxes has its upside: an incrementally better pool of engineers.

A better world, electrocution by electrocution!

Sounds more like the work of an electrician. I don't know of too many EE programs that deal with actual electrical wiring (like in buildings) - EE these days (and really for the past 25 years at least) is a lot more heavy on electronics, DSP stuff, software development, and maybe semiconductor device physics


To be fair, I left parts of the story out. He was a graduate of a 4 year program electrical engineering program but because of the job market he decided to go on to get his masters. He was interning for this Engineering firm that does a lot of consulting work for us. They asked me to find him something useful to do and I said "how about you have him come up with some wiring diagrams for those controls you had installed but never gave us any kind of documentation for." It was not normal wiring that he was drawing up but a mixture of electronic controls, pneumatic controls and EP switches that were powered with 120 volts. I don't know what field you work in, but around here it seems fairly common to have jr engineers and interns come up with prints for undocumented stuff. I always assumed it was part of the job description.

And yes, I know that most EE these days don't do building wiring. However, I still see EE doing building electrical distributions work out in the field. In any case, circuits 101 is something I would hope every engineer learns. Certainly my brother who is a 4 year civil engineering graduate learned enough in school to be able to tell me the difference between a neutral and a ground.

EE's make some of the worst electricians, because they think they know and do not. I walked into the office one day, an an EE had the printer open trying to figure out what was wrong. He'd taken the main circuit board out and put it back in, but he was suspicious he might put back the power connection to the board backward because now it was popping the breaker every time he plugged it in.

"Black is ground, right?" he asked.

"No! Black is hot!" I said. "Green is ground. White is cold."

You really don't learn anything in EE about actually working with electrical systems - some departments might offer a couple elective courses on power engineering which is the closest you get. It's all basically computer hardware engineering now and related topics, and by now I mean probably since the 80s or even late 70s.

You really don’t learn anything in EE about actually working with electrical systems

I'll second this. If you want to learn about building wiring, you do that on your own or working for someone. Certainly you won't learn it at the school.

That being said, our EE co-ops can and do trace out wiring for documentation purposes, but not all EE's go through a co-op program.

Even analog EE is primarily about IC design. That field is quite different, and uses different terminology and symbols, than standard building circuitry. I wouldn't even dream of asking an interview candidate about neutral and ground. It's a concept that an EE engineer should be able to understand very quickly once it is explained, but whether they know the definition or not tells you virtually nothing about their competence as an EE engineer.

Wow, that's bad.

My worst EE story comes from a college internship, where I worked with a bunch of engineering students, mostly MEs, a few EEs. One day an EE swings by my desk to ask me how to make a precise measurement of the resistance of a resistor. I think for a while, and say "Well, if a Wheatstone bridge won't work, I suppose you could try..." and he interrupted me with "What's a Wheatstone bridge?"

Most of the engineers I've worked with have been perfectly competent, and I'm sure the world is full of dumb-physicist stories too, Just goes to show that even an engineering degree from a major US school is no guarantee of adequacy.

the quality of graduates is appalling.

So is the universities job mainly to test or to educate?

All these kids sound like a whining bunch to me. Why don't they start their own businesses or work as freelancers? A lot of us have to do that, all around the world. They are still spoilt from the time when they joined a political party and got a government job for doing so.

How do you get to be a freelancer with no experience? No one will give you any jobs without a reference, and as a fresh graduate you're not likely to have many.

Even if you can still live with mom and dad, very few companies let you do free internships or apprenticeships either. So, no experience to get the jobs that require experience, and no money to start your own company. It's frustrating, even for people who would work for very low pay to do something that helps them improve their future career prospects.

Charge very little or volunteer. There's bound to be someone with a project that's not super important but you could do for very little money. If you do a good job, Boom! reference.

"Why don’t they start their own businesses or work as freelancers?"

Why indeed! Kinda "Why don't they eat cake?"

What fraction of any modern nation has thrived on business & freelance? Do we have a benchmark?

Fundamental attribution error. Governments screwed up the money supply jacking the economy and the returns to division of labor. In the US, we make laws forbidding the planting of food gardens on our property. We are just lucky.

What fraction of any modern nation has thrived on business??

The Dutch, in my experience, will tell you the Dutch have.

Whether that should be taken with a grain of salt is open to interpretation, of course. The Dutch, at least in my experience in this area of discussion, tend to be both a bit cynical and a bet self-deprecating. And just the smallest bit smug.

Sounds like they're overdue for a smackdown, mein Kapitän.


I'll rephrase: What fraction of the population of any modern nation owns a business and makes a livelihood of it?

Depends on "modern nation." When the US started most people were employed in the family business, weren't they?

That's not how you do it. Silly MR commenters.

The real deal these days are temp agencies. That's how you get started. After you "temp" for about 2 years, you might get a real job with stuff like benefits and vacation time and days off.

You're adorable.

"No work available? Why don't you just go out and find work? If you put "freelancer" next to your name, it magically multiplies the available work! Freelancing opportunities abound!"

Another example of ZMP workers?

Well, at least he knows exactly why he is unemployed... oh, wait.

Universities in Greece are VERY weird places. Obviously there's rampant corruption and incompetence like in every other government sector, but they are also extremely political places. Student unions have absurd amounts of power, and that power is hotly contested by the "youth" wings of the various parties, with (obviously) the far left being very popular. Any attempt to reform the university system for the better is met with mass-scale mobilization that comes down from the party leaders: they occupy the campuses effectively shutting down the schools, then march around in "protests" which usually involve breaking a lot of things.

Oh and police are forbidden by law to enter universities, so there's nothing that can be done about the people occupying the schools. The universities are also filled with people selling counterfeit stuff and drugs. The "anarchists" use the campuses to store the molotov bombs they use in their fights with the police.

It's a miracle that this environment produces even a few people worth hiring.

I often wonder why we don't have something like employers sponsoring the seats at universities. If your seat doesn't have a sponsor, that's fine, but adjust your expectations. Maybe my idea is lame, but I also wonder why no one else seems puzzled by the fact that universities do almost nothing to actually match students to jobs.

Germany has something similar called "Duales Studium". It combines a university education with practical work in the company and you get paid during your education.

And if you are any good at all, the company you worked at will offer you a job.Something true for a number (at least 20%) of the people I work with at an ERP software company founded in the mid-1980s.

Some companies find this form of 'Ausbilding' useful - where I work has been involved with the original concept of the Berufsakedemie since the very early 1990s, before this degree/Diplom was even accepted in other Bundesländer, one of the company owners having taught as a professor there (he had already been a company owner for 10 years before getting involved with the BA, it must be noted - he is now one of the directors).

On the other hand, where my wife works has no interest in this at all. Generally, in this self-advertised high tech region, DH graduates earn a higher salary and are considered more employable than a normal university graduate, particularly at companies not involved in the program (which shows just why this particular company owner finds the concept attractive - high quality labor selected after 3 years experience, including a certain loyalty built in by being their first employer, at a lower salary).

Of course, only such employers as SAP and 1&1 are found headquartered in this region, so it isn't as if here is actually typical.

I've wondered about the same thing.

Turning it around, I wonder if there is a niche for a secondary institution that functions essentially as a temp/ employment agency, that offers secondary education classes and can grant degrees and certifications. There are probably laws preventing this. I wonder if we will get it from the other direction, with employment agencies boosting their training and being more selective over who they take on.

Another idea is corporate universities. Each company or industry has their own institution of learning that teaches the skills needed for that company or industry. The question becomes, how do you recruit students? Does anyone get a shot or should at least a college degree be required?

Universities were not supposed to be vocational schools where one goes to learn a trade. They were supposed to be where you hone your critical thinking and overall knowledge so you can be an accomplished future leader or even an informed citizen. If you wanted to learn a trade, you went to a trade school. Now, we're questioning the value of a college education because of its cost

I presume you've spent time there. Can others confirm this appalling picture?

If true, it's just another example to me of how Greece has graciously laid itself out to the Western world as a cautionary tale. Mind-boggling.

Indeed, that's an astounding post.

The PI of my mission is Greek, and he did once mention that Greek police are not allowed on campus, and the universities jealously guard the privilege. The police are so pissed off about this that when there was a shooting spree of a Greek college campus, the university asked the police to put a stop to it, and the police refused, as it would be illegal for them to enter. Shitstorm ensues.

This is all according to my professor, I have no firsthand knowledge.

I was more struck by Ms. Stratigaki's story, and a little disappointed with the magazine for treating her with such kid gloves. This woman had a decent job with a private firm, and decided to ditch it for a government-funded position in social work - her story reads to me like a microcosm of what drove Greece off the rails in the first place.

Yes, that struck me too. In fact, she seems to have had a couple of opportunities to prosper, and each time she quit to do more social work. On the one hand, this shows an admirable determination to help people, but on the other hand she never seemed to question why the unpleasant, spiritually unrewarding work carried a wage while the other didn't. Is there just possibly something about the way the real world works that her readings in sociological theory didn't cover?

How can you read "bank debt collector in Athens, calling people who owed money on loans... spent eight hours a day being cursed at and insulted" and summarize it as "a decent job with a private firm"? It's like you're criticizing her for quitting a job at McDonald's.

One wonders to what extent the difficulty of language (and work visa) acquisition play into this guy's plight. If he could muster the funds to bootstrap himself and is conversant in English it seems like he should be able to emigrate somewhere and teach Greek language (or Economics) at a high school or community college. If one's job market is "the entire English speaking world" surely there's a job for him somewhere. Or is the lack of necessary funds to bootstrap a move the root issue?

It's REALLY difficult to find a job in another country if you aren't some kind of elite Harvard graduate type, it's honestly nowhere near as easy and cheap to do as many people on this blog seem to imagine.

To use a German expression - Jein.

This is not really true for EU citizens, as the barriers are no longer legal. Any EU citizen can move to anywhere in the EU without much hassle. Except for living in a foreign land, of course.

And finding work in a county with 5% unemployment shouldn't be too hard, right?

However, finding work which reflects the imagined value to its holder of a master's degree in economics? That will be a sad story, just as Prof. Cowen wrote.

Those who were young adults during the Great Recession will probably be telling their children to get a trade. One which everybody needs (plumbing, hairdressing - which in a highly competitive economy is not a luxury, but a necessary upgrade, brewing beer, etc).

However, I am reminded of a lovely line from John Barnes' novel "A Million Open Doors." A young man has taken a summer job as a farmhand while waiting for his 'real' job to kick in, and had complained about shoveling manure in the barn. The farmer remarks "A government economist? You've only *begun* to shovel this stuff."

Read this earlier. Cross-posted from there:

This article has various asides that made my jaw drop:

* They interviewed a social worker. While that's a perfectly valid profession, it's probably true she should consider a career change, especially since there appear to be 2,000 other unemployed social workers to compete with.

* "This is the last interview she’s likely to get before Greece shuts down for the summer holidays." How is it possible that Greece can afford to shut down for a national vacation?

* "In July, 25,000 public workers, including teachers, janitors, ministry employees, and municipal police, found out they would face large-scale reshuffling and possible dismissal. An additional 15,000 public workers are slated to lose their jobs by the end of 2014." The amazing thing about the Greek chapter of the crisis is how few public workers lost their jobs. The country lost 1 million jobs. How many in the public sector? Well, some, maybe, maybe late next year.

* "That job, like many in Greece these days, was given to her on a one-year contract." The one year contract is a common feature of jobs held by young people in Southern Europe. It came about as a compromise. It is so hard to fire ordinary workers that companies stopped hiring, to protect themselves. The contract is a way to allow companies to effectively lay off junior workes without reducing protection for older workers. One more strap on the economic straitjacket that those companies must endure.

* "with the public sector sweeping up many recent graduates, there was little incentive for universities to offer the technical skills companies now demand" Handwriting, meet wall...

I think of these arrangements as 'Potemkin economies' - Gulf states being the prime examples, although these will only last as long as the oil does. But these countries never had 'real economies', and even Greece, a generation ago, was a very poor country. The real shame is to see advanced Western countries, those that have done all the hard work of creating 'real economies', slowly sliding toward Potemkin-land.

I dunno about the Gulf-pessimism. Digging up and processing oil seems as real as, say, making cars from steel.

Yes, Gulf oil will dry up someday but that isn't very soon. Besides the oil processing infrastructure (e.g. refining, petrochem etc. ) can always transition to process crude from another oilfield. Also, its not as if the rest of the world has figured out what to do after end of oil as well.

Some of the Gulf states are doing quite well about transitioning out of the resource-economies: Check out the airline hubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. With their strategic location those locales can easily grab a major chunk of the world's passenger / cargo transshipment for both air and sea.

Oil is an asset. Intelligent countries (Norway) convert that physical asset into a financial asset and live off the income. Other countries spend the asset to...subsidize consumption of the asset. Their future is not so bright.

These kind of stories make me think that schools are teaching the wrong things.

In Greece the economic situation is really complicated, it's one of the countries hardest hit by the economic crisis. The Greek politicians need to take responsibility and give people in economic distress a way out from the problem. Maybe they need to ask specialists in the economic crisis what to do. One of these is the Orlando Bisegna Index that has helped a lots of counties with debt problems, business closures, and unemployment in turn improving the economic situation for a lot of families in need

Greek tragedy? I'm an American with an MA in Economics and have the exact same problem. After an overseas internship, I took a teaching position in the U.S. because it was a stable situation for my young family and I thought it would be good experience. Little did I know it would signal to potential employers that "I can't" (ie: the adage "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Yes, a hiring manager actually told me that) and PhD programs that I couldn't get it the first time (nevermind that I used my teaching stint to take free math credits and improve my GRE scores).
Now I have the joy of watching my former undergrads get hired for jobs I can't get an interview for-- perhaps also because they think I'll be overpriced compared to a 21 year old. (The overseas stint has also been a minus in job interviews.)
So, I'm doing what the commenter above said-- freelancing and trying to learn new skills-- retrain myself to be a computer programmer or something I didn't want to do.

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