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Is There too much Education in Norway?

Minister of Higher Education and Research, Tora Aasland answered the claims that Norway has too much emphasis on higher and vocational education.
Is There too much Education in Norway?

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Last fall, both Klassekampen and Teknisk Ukeblad argued that the education level was too high in Norway. Last fall, both Klassekampen and Teknisk Ukeblad argued that the education level was too high in Norway. This was triggered by a critique of a research from Statistics Norway (Bjørnstad et al) which showed a projection of demand for labor by education until 2030. The discussion seems to have flared up again now through the statements of some experts.

In most of these arguments, it is proposed that an increase in the number of students and encouraging them to pursue higher education will take people away from vocational education. This is a fallacy. Everyone understands that it is both possible - and highly desirable - that we need more people with vocational training and higher education simultaneously. This is the main argument and the basis of St.mld. 44 (2009-2010) Education line - which Parliament adopted last year.

We need higher expertise in workforce

First, we need more people with higher education. Teaching, nursing care and engineering are the prioritized fields. Both in Norway and internationally all the research shows that the need for highly educated workers is increasing and that we will not be able to sustain the growth and development if we fail to ensure that more people are pursuing education. It's pretty obvious that the recent years' progress has been possible through a substantial strengthening of highly skilled labor, and future development will also be dependent on this expertise.

Human labor is replaced by computers and advanced equipments, and they require higher and higher expertise to operate. Therefore, our universities and colleges constantly develop more advanced and more relevant courses in which an increasing number of future employees receive education.

Second, we do need more people with vocational education. There is already a labor shortage in several types of vocational training, and The Norwegian Statistics Bureau’s projections show that the defect may be greater in future years if more people don’t choose to take vocational training. This particularly includes electricians, mechanics and a number of building and construction areas, not to mention the health and social care.

The most vulnerable group in the labor market

There is no doubt that those who do not complete secondary education are vulnerable in the labor market. Their connection to the market is often random and they are often the first ones to be cut in difficult times. They have much lower employment than those who have a craft or journeyman's certificate and higher education.

In addition, statistics show that employers are investing significantly in workers with more formal education. People with no education beyond primary and secondary education are over-represented among the unemployed, and disability pensioners. It is obviously not the case that the unskilled necessarily fall out of the labor market and social life; on the contrary, many people are doing very well, have good, stable jobs and achieve a lot of high competence through participation in the labor market. But there is little doubt that the competition for unskilled jobs is tough, and this group is more vulnerable.

About 70 percent of young people complete upper secondary education five years after they finish 10th grade. The rest either interrupt their training, or are still in secondary education. That is why the minister has initiated an extensive and complex effort to raise the completion of their education.

New Skills for New Jobs

Statistical projections show that the proportion of employees with no education beyond primary school will be reduced by 50 percent (from 27 percent in 2007 to 18 percent in 2030) until 2030. Also the number of people who have completed programs for business and office skills at high school without further higher education will be increased significantly, while the need for workers with vocational education and higher education (all levels) will continue to increase accordingly.

This is a trend that will affect other countries, too. The EU project New Skills for New Jobs also shows that unskilled worker jobs disappear, and newly created jobs require mostly technical or vocational higher education. There will still be a need for some unskilled labor for many jobs, and compensation will be needed for the retiring people. But the proportion of employees without formal education in sum will fall quite noticeably.

Potential of increasing education among young population

It is important that those who speak about the educational needs should take these realities into consideration. Fortunately, we are having a wave of young people nowadays. The number of children in baby boomers will grow quite significantly in future years. The number of young people aged 19-29 years will grow by over 90 000 people between 2008 and 2015, and the increase is about 115 000 in 2020. In addition, a young population continues to immigrate to Norway.

Norway has fared remarkably well through the financial crisis; labor migration is today relatively high. In the youth wave, there is a significant potential to increase both the number of young people who take and complete the vocational education and the number who are in higher education.

The government has, fortunately, realized this and has ambitious plans to increase the number of apprenticeship and higher education, including vocational training. It is important both for individuals and for our economy that we provide a good training and education, and it requires more study and more formal training beyond basic education.

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