Minister Valchev, on the occasion of the new school year, are the sectors of education and business closer to solving their common problem - the deepening shortage of qualified staff and the professional realization of young people after graduation?
Over the recent years, we have made a number of steps of improvement to bring bothe sectors- education and business- closer to each other. They are still insufficient. The labor market and the education market are two separate markets with their own logic and their own demands. In this short term, we cannot so easily change school students’ and university students' desires to study in the direction of professions and majors where there is a greater shortage in the labor market, but that is precisely what we are trying to do with restructuring admissions and with financial instruments. We provide additional funds to vocational high schools that teach majors with a future shortage of staff and protected majors, to colleges that teach priority vocational fields, and we provide additional scholarships to those, who decide to study those majors and in dual education.
We are expanding the education and training in the dual form, which is also a way to link education with business. A project under the OP "Science and Education for Intelligent Growth" is being assessed for the additional funding of dual training activities. A number of companies have become involved, but our overall observation is that larger companies and businesses are more likely to get involved. The challenge is to motivate more small and medium-sized enterprises to become part of the training, and we are confronted with the mission to allow more flexible forms to open lessons.
The admission plan envisaged nearly 60 percent of the upper secondary education classes to be professionally oriented. Will this percentage be reached this year?
That percentage was 49 percent three years ago, we increased it up to 54 percent over the past school year. For the new school year, we expect about 58 percent of the classes to be in vocational training. But structure is also important because we are trying to increase the number of lessons in technically professional fields. Our policy is to steer admissions from non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields of study to STEM related ones. As there is an expected dramatic shortage of staff.
If aging teachers and illiteracy are major problems for education in general, what makes vocational education less attractive so that incentives are required from all countries?
Our study from three years ago showed that children and their parents do not see enough chances for full-fledged work and life realization with vocational education alone. But this is more of an inertia stemming from the last decades, when there were not enough high-paying jobs since our technology industries were in crisis- since it was during the early stages of development where many of today's businesses, nowadays, generate the highest growth in value added value and in exports. But now things are changing, and this is what we are trying to state with our messages to students and their parents - that vocational education can ensure a good realization. In order for a younger person to continue in the higher education system, vocational education will be an effective complement to his mix of knowledge and skills.
The shortage of skilled workers in the labor market is over 30 percent, which is five times more than 10 years ago. Is Bulgarian business active enough to invest and participate in the training of personnel?
Unfortunately, the shortage will deepen in the upcoming years and this is due to the age structure of the workforce. Young people entering the job market will be barely two-thirds compared to those who will be retired. That is why it is so important to restructure the reception so that we direct more high-school and university students to professional fields, where the shortage of staff would be most dramatic. Business does a lot. We have great interaction with representative employers' organizations, but much more important is the interaction between schools and companies at the local level. We encourage this, but both parties just need to be more active. What we need to do together is an information campaign for young people, because there is an inertia in the way of thinking, there is an attitude of self-inclusion in higher education and graduate education. We need to explain much more to children that the skills they will acquire are important, not so much a diploma or a certificate itself.
64 percent of our economy needs technically trained personnel. However, those who study in such specialties are below 30 percent. Do administrative measures just help you with what you are trying to do with higher intakes?
The labor market gives the best signals. Increasing income today motivates students who will apply in the coming years to choose the appropriate education, according to their interests. There is a connection between the two markets, but unfortunately this is delayed purely by market mechanisms. That is why we are adding administrative mechanisms.
The Ministry of Education is also one of the largest employers. The community is interested in motivating and involving more students in pedagogical education and the profession. We have prioritized pedagogical and engineering majors. We are considering introducing another supplementary funding program next year in the form of scholarships for the best students with the highest high school graduation marks, who will be enrolled in engineering and pedagogical higher education. Because besides the quantitative, we have to solve the qualitative problem. The best education systems are those in which teachers become some of the best students. The most technologically advanced countries are those where the best students become engineers. Unfortunately, this is not the case here, and these majors are sought after by students with relatively lower scores. This will change as we try to get more developed.
This year, after the third ranking in many universities, the vacancies were a fact - however, the "modern", of specialties and subjects, which are overcrowded, are non-beneficial due to this overcrowding phenomenon to the market. Am I wrong?
The liberalization of admission in public higher education has led to two undesirable results - almost all graduates are admitted to higher education, which has devalued higher education and has become a reputational problem for the system. And the second undesirable result is the structural one – the irrational demand because of the certificate as an end in itself, not because of the urge towards knowledge. This phenomenon has emerged at the most in the social, business and legal sciences. For four years, we have developed the legal basis for restructuring and reducing this intake. Total admission into the public higher education system has been reduced from 58,000 to 43,000. At the same time, we are reducing admission precisely in the social, economic and legal sciences. In the spheres of Administration and Management the intake was reduced by 60 percent, in Economics - by 60 percent, in Psychology - by 50 percent, in Law - by 40 percent. At the same time, we encourage inclusion in the natural sciences, the mathematical ones, in pedagogical, engineering fields.
However, are universities generally lagging behind labor market trends and business needs?
The problem is that our higher education institutions are often not sufficiently open and connected with both business and other universities. This will be the main policy we will promote. Our universities should join European networks with colleges from other countries to support common programs, award commonly recognized diplomas and have a common quality standard. This alone will ensure that they develop dynamically enough. Universities must be at the heart of innovative ecosystems. What we find most difficult is to get both business and higher education to interact with innovation. Because sooner or later, we have to move towards a more growth-based model of innovation. Higher education is everywhere at the heart of innovation systems, of serious and large business initiatives that involve scientific and innovative activity.
However, are we all prepared for what lies ahead in the next 15-20 years? Are we working on a vision for the professions of the future?
We face a difficult task because the education system is responsible for the future, and sometimes we cannot cope with the dynamics of the times today. We need to train children who will be in the labor market for the next 40 years. The world is going to change a lot and go through several waves of transformation. Today's children will not only change the positions they work for many times, but they will likely change their professions several times as well. They will have to learn constantly and what they need to be educated is the so-called “key competences” plus basic professional skills to upgrade. We need to make them literate, capable, have digital skills, the skills of the future - critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration and concentration.
What will you wish for those working in the field of education, for those who are now entering the institution of the school, and for business, of course, who also should not miss the beginning of the school year?
I hope that the education workers will have a more peaceful new school year. We are done with a great wave of change and I hope the system feels at ease. In the coming years, we will rely much more on the change coming from the bottom up - from creative teachers, to innovative teaching methods and their sharing among teachers. The change should be based on the energy of the people below, but they need to feel more free and calm. And to give them a categorical signal that they have this freedom.
I wish all the children success and happiness through their education! And I wish that the business will have less problems with staffing, because that will be their main challenge in the coming years! We also hope that fewer people will leave the country because the biggest loss of national capital in recent years is emigration.