The world economy is changing at breakneck speed and European universities are struggling to keep up with it. According to IE University experts working on European Tech Insights 2019, which analyses the opinions of residents from eight European countries – France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – in the face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and successive waves of technological transformation.
The Insights 2019 reveals that six out of 10 Europeans with degrees consider that their universities did not prepare them to manage the technological revolution. This is verified by 68% of people aged between 50 and 65 years and 37% of those aged between 18 and 34.
The gap between the skills of university graduates and the needs of the labour market has increased in the last decade. EU studies indicate that 40% of companies have difficulties in finding qualified employees, a figure that rises to 70% in companies in strategic sectors such as technology and science.
This mismatch costs millions of euros and around 2% of the productivity of Europe’s economy. In addition, it causes frustration and instability for millions of people who are unable to find work or develop successful careers.
What should universities do
Many people argue that the solution to this imbalance is to adjust education to the demands of the market, eliminating or reducing courses that offer less chance to find a job focussing on STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses.
Our universities must help students attain the necessary technical skills to face our new reality, as well as guide them to acquire new skills. This exercise should be done prospectively, that is, it should not only be oriented toward the current market, but also towards the future when students who are now in their first year of a university degree will access their first job. With this in mind, the European Union has launched initiatives such as the New Skills Agenda for Europe. The government should form a clear strategy to regulate the politicisation of education.
As Alvin Toffler, an expert in the digital revolution has pointed out, “The illiterates of our century are not those who cannot read or write, but instead are those who cannot learn, unlearn and learn again.”
Around 50% of the knowledge acquired by students in their first year of a science programme will be obsolete the day they graduate. In order not to be left out of the market, today’s graduates will have to continue studying. However, few European universities offer attractive lifelong learning courses, adapted to the needs of people in work.
(The author is Diego del Alcázar Benjumea, executive vice president of IE University)