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Guiding Investigation 22 May May 2019 0748 22 May 2019

Italian education compared to Europe

From graduates to school dropouts and public funding, Italy has an education problem. And Brussels cannot help but tell us off

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The European elections on 26 May are just a few days away. And Italy is taking to the polls some of the less educated voters of the old continent. From graduates to dropouts and public funding, Italy, it seems, has a serious problem of education. And Brussels, even at in this case, cannot help but tell us off about it.

This is confirmed by the numbers in "Education and training sector monitoring report 2018 Italy" prepared by the European Commission. Italy spends less than other EU countries and achieves worse results. For this reason, but not only, Italy runs the risk of losing a million students in the next ten years: from 9 to 8 million in total (source: Eurostat).

The problem of school dropouts in Italy is one of the hottest issues in the EU spotlight. One of the objectives of the "Europe 2020" Strategic Plan is to lower the school dropout rate to 10%. In 2016 the EU average rate of school dropouts was 10.7 %, a 0.3 percentage point lower than in 2015. Seventeen Member States have already achieved the headline target of the Europe 2020 strategy. Two others - Latvia (10.0 %) and Germany (10.3 %) - are very close. Italy is still well above average: indeed, education and training system dropout has increased in the last two years, reaching 14.5% in 2018.

This is why our country continues to rank last in terms of numbers of Neet, young people who do not study and are not employed: in 2017 they were up to 25.7%, compared to a European average of 14.3%. A similar percentage is recorded in Cyprus, where there are 22.7% Neets, followed by Greece (21.4%), Croatia (20.2%), Romania (19.3%) and Bulgaria (18.6%).

There are also differences compared to the rest of Europe in terms of skills and level of education. In Italy, 27.9% of young people aged 30-34 have a tertiary qualification. The national target set by Europe 2020 (26-27%) has thus been largely achieved. However, the level is still very much below the European average and only above that of Romania. For women, the share of 30-34 year old graduates is 34%, while for men it is 21.7%.

Italy runs the risk of losing a million students in the next ten years, going from 9 to 8 million in total

From the 2000s onwards, the European Commission has set objectives for the development of excellence in education and training, focusing above all on the diffusion of dual learning, i.e. combining theoretical learning with the acquisition of practical skills in the workplace, thus avoiding the skills mismatch which is spread throughout the old continent.

In Italy, the school work placement was made mandatory by the 2015 "Buona Scuola" reform. In all European countries, in different ways, there are two models of school-work training: one is placements, the other the apprenticeships which can be parallel or complementary. Some examples have been copied throughout the continent, such as the German Fachoberschulen, vocational institutes for full time upper secondary level, to which our Istituti tecnici are inspired, even though they are still a long way off in terms of the number of enrolees. Despite the fact that 80% of the graduates in these institutes find a job one year after the end of their studies, there are only about 10,000 enrolled against the more than 900,000 Germans.

This work-oriented outlook is necessary, if it is true that, according to Eurostat data, there are 3.8 million job vacancies in the European Union. It is the so-called skill mismatch: 20% of missing jobs in the EU are due to issues caused by inadequate skills in the market. In this regard, in 2016 the European Commission presented a proposal for a recommendation called "Skills Guarantee", encouraging the adaptation of the skills of young people and the unemployed.

Italy is ranking third in Europe in terms of the number of workers with lower skills compared to what the job requires and seventh compared to workers with higher skills than the role they have. About 6% of Italian workers have low skills compared to the tasks performed, while 21% are under-qualified. “Surprisingly - and despite the low skill levels that characterise the country - there have been many cases where employees had skills beyond those their job required, reflecting the low demand for skills in Italy. Employees with extra skills and those over-qualified account for a large proportion of the Italian workforce, amounting to 11.7% and 18% respectively.” “Around 35% of employees work in a sector other than the one for which they studied.”

Italy ranks third in Europe in terms of the number of workers with lower skills compared to the job held and seventh compared to workers with higher skills than the role held

Digital initiatives could have a major impact, given that the lack of skills mainly concern this area. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), only 36% of individuals in Italy are able to use the Internet in a complex and diversified way. A reflection of this is that in our country 13.8% of workers are employed in jobs that run the risk of being automated and would need moderate training (up to one year) to move to safer jobs.

The solution, again, starts with education. Italy - as shown by the OECD study Education at a Glance - spends less than other countries on education on average: in proportional US dollars per student (28 per cent less than the OSCE countries) and as a percentage of GDP (3.9 percent of GDP, compared to an average of 5 per cent in industrialised countries and 4.6 per cent in the European Union). A low expense that can also be visualised in the salaries of our teachers: at the peak of their careers, the salary of a teacher reaches between 79% (primary school) and 86% (pre-primary school) of the OECD average at a similar level.

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