Ivan is a second year student of sociology at a private university in this country. He works as an insurance broker but has not been to lectures since the beginning of the second semester, because as he says, "there they do not teach them anything". Yet his parents are paying steep tuition fees and in a year or two he will have obtained his diploma. Just like Ivan, many of today's students in Bulgaria will not be working in the sphere of their university education.
Ralitsa is in her second year too, but at a university in the Netherlands. She is doing finance and does not know whether she will be returning to Bulgaria one day. She has chosen to continue her education abroad because she says that the quality of education is better in her chosen sphere and she will have a better chance of finding a job.
What do Ivan and Ralitsa have in common? University education, which generally gives a diploma, but no specific knowledge or skills.
A number of NGOs as well as the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce have been grappling with the problem of the severed link between education and the requirements of employers for years. The World Bank has also been monitoring the problem. Both Chamber and Bank recently presented surveys and data, describing the specifics and the bottlenecks in qualification and the labour market.
Tomcho Tomov, head of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce project “National Network for Competence Assessment” has a different view of the problem:
“Not that employers disparage diplomas, what they value more are the real skills the applicants have. For some years the European and the National Qualification Framework have set down the condition that the process of education must end not with a grade but with specific acquired knowledge, skills and competencies that can be demonstrated upon graduation. The strategy for the development of higher and professional education requires competence profiles of the curriculum for each degree, not just as a declaration but as prospectus contents that lead to given competencies.”
According to Tomcho Tomov, university graduates are having difficulty finding a job because there is no state planning, which means too many of a given kind of specialists find themselves on the labour market and too few of others. A number of changes should be made to the programmes approved, he adds. University autonomy is an international tradition, but often the syllabus includes subjects for which lecturers can be provided, yet they do not live up to the new tendencies, the needs of the labour market or the technological development of the given sectors. The Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce has been working with 17 universities on the competence assessment programme. But if it wants to regain the students’ trust in university education in this country, the system has to be reformed. It is crucial that the method of financing be altered – now it is based on quantity rather than quality, with the payments being per student and not for knowledge acquired.
The advice to people who want to promote their professional skills is to continue with their studies.