- Academic graduates have much darker view of their professional prospects
- Willingness to seek employment abroad continues to drop
- In times of crisis, students bank on security, loyalty and regular working hours
Hanover, May 19, 2010. The consequences of the economic and financial crisis have had a telling impact on German students: Their career expectations have plummeted. Whereas at the beginning of 2009, as the crisis was first making itself felt, one out of every four surveyed was still “very confident” as regards career prospects, now only one out of seven feels that way. At the same time there is a stronger yearning for job security, longer length of service with one employer, more loyalty in professional relations and regular working hours.
These are the findings of the representative 7th “Continental Student Survey” of prospective engineers, natural scientists and economists presented by the international automotive supplier on Wednesday. At the company’s behest, TNS/Infratest queried around 1,000 students as to their opinions on careers, the work world and university-related topics. Other thematic focal points this year were professional qualification as well as university reform and its implementation in Germany.
Assessing the results, Heinz-Gerhard Wente, Continental’s Executive Board member for human resources notes: “In the wake of an economically eventful, if not to say turbulent, year in a stormy sea, security, stability and predictability for one’s own future are apparently high on the college and university graduates’ wish list. They are looking for an anchor in the form of two-way employer loyalty and have their eyes fixed on the home port – i.e. Germany. Continental rates long service and loyalty to the company very high and we share with those surveyed the trust they place in Germany’s future economic prospects. On the other hand, students should not underestimate or lose sight of the importance of aspects like mobility and internationality.
The global market is the key to Germany’s standing in terms of economic health and know-how. This, in turn, implies that one remain flexible and willing to work where growth is taking place – in Asia, for example.”
Despite the crisis, the majority of university and college graduates remain basically optimistic about their own careers. In 2010 no fewer than 65 percent rated their prospects “very good” or “good”. That, however, represents a drop of 9 percent from 2009 (74 percent) and thus the lowest percentage since the survey was initiated in 2004. For the most part, Germany's standing in international competition continues to be viewed very positively, with an unchanged 70 percent rating it “very good” or “good”. Also unchanged from last year – at two thirds – is the share of those surveyed evaluating their own qualification and the quality of what they know as “very good” or “good”.
Dr. Hans Georg Helmstädter, President of the University of Applied Sciences in Brandenburg (Fachhochschule Brandenburg), Germany, added: „According to the German Economic Institute in Cologne, there were as many as 61,000 more open positions for MINT graduates than there were job applicants in June 2009, at the height of the economic crisis. Since many engineers and computer scientists will be retiring in the coming years, 49,000 career beginners will be needed to fill their positions each year through 2014. Each year from 2015 to 2020, there will have to be 59,000 young graduates to ensure that this gap does not get any larger. The bottom line is that annually, the economy will need an estimated 101,000 MINT graduates through 2015, and about 111,000 between 2015 and 2020 – approximately 70 percent of which are engineers. The pessimism of students’ expectations prevalent in the overall findings of the Continental Student Survey does not correspond to the current actual situation regarding professional perspectives for university graduates. This applies particularly to the subjects of mathematics, information (computer) science, natural sciences and technology – referred to as the MINT subjects.”
Notwithstanding the upbeat underlying tenor expressed here, the crisis has triggered a longing for security. In the boom year 2005, 25.6 percent indicated that they were interested in an “unlimited employment relationship, if possible lifelong” and “a high degree of loyalty”.
In 2010, 49.7 percent, or nearly twice as many, would prefer an employment relationship of this kind. Accordingly, the share of those gladly inclined to view their future “in and out of ‘marriages of convenience’, so to speak, in a succession of limited but well-paid and interesting jobs at various companies” has slipped from 68.5 percent in 2005 to 45.8 percent today.
“I may not be an expert in economics or education, but the development on the labor market, especially after graduation, gives me the impression that professions with government security have suddenly once again become more important for many students. One can therefore conclude from the survey findings that civil servant positions could suddenly experience a renaissance. In order for this to happen, however, the financial viability must first be figured out,” said Ariane Friedrich, competitive athlete and graduate of the Wiesbaden Administration Academy (Verwaltungsfachhochschule Wiesbaden), commenting on the findings.
A similar trend is evident as regards the duration of future employment relationships. Whereas in 2005 more than 90 percent were still convinced that they would not be employed for more than ten years by any one employer, as many as 17.4 percent of those surveyed now assume, by way of contrast, that the average employment duration will exceed ten years. A further indication of the desire for more “reliability” concerns working hours: Whereas 2006 around 48 percent of those surveyed agreed to an individually negotiated 40-hour workweek, only 30.8 percent would still be willing to accept that today. At the same time, the collectively negotiated 40-hour week is enjoying a boom, with 30 percent of those surveyed hoping to fall under such (2006: 17.2 percent).
As another possible consequence of the crisis, prospective engineers, natural scientists and economists are more likely to envision their future workplace in Germany, with a willingness to work abroad continuing to decline.
This applies in particular to a potential assignment in Eastern Europe or Asia. 64.3 percent – or the highest rejection rate in the survey’s history (2004: 43.9 percent) – view employment in countries in this region as “rather unlikely” or “very definitely not” an option.
When specifically asked about their willingness to work in Eastern European EU countries – like Romania, which joined in 2007 – a whole 74 percent (2004: 64.1 percent) say they would not. At 64.6 percent (2006: 48.9 percent) the rejection rate is similarly high for booming countries like China as well as for South America, including Brazil (48.6 percent vs. 37.7 percent in 2004). Even the attractiveness of Switzerland and the USA is rapidly declining, with interest in a job in the former falling by 13.8 percentage points to 63.8 percent (2007: 77.6 percent) and in the latter by 7.8 percentage points to 47.6 percent (2004: 55.4 percent).
Sophie Steurer, member of the German national board of AIESEC, however added: “We see the decreasing willingness to be mobile as a plus for Germany as a location for business, but in view of the requirements for employees presented by an ever more global world, we feel it is very alarming. We consider global mobility to be a core competence, a competence that we would like to foster amongst students. In contrast to the findings of the Continental Student Survey, we have recently observed growing interest in internships abroad in the AIESEC organization, with the regions of Eastern Europe and Asia actually being higher in demand than in the recent past.”
Another section of the survey deals with the topic of professional qualification. Of those surveyed, 74.2 percent study at a university, 21.4 percent at a technical college, while only 4.4 percent are in a program that combines practical work experience and study. This notwithstanding, nearly one out of every two (45.6 percent) is convinced that gaining practical work experience as part of the academic curriculum is the best way to obtain professional qualification and opens the way to better career prospects. Asked about their reasons for holding this opinion, 29.7 percent cited practical relevance, 20.9 percent the combination of theory and practical experience, and 18.2 percent a chance to get their foot in the door at some company.
The chief arguments for studying at a university as regards professional prospects are: the “ability to flexibly apply what one knows (again and again in a new context), analytical skills, research approach, competence in quickly adjusting to new requirements" (25.2 percent), and "highest level of education, highest-/best-quality knowledge" (22.3 percent). Those feeling that studying at a technical college is a preferential way to bolster one’s professional prospects cited the following: “practical relevance, practical orientation” (58.6 percent) and “practical relevance in a more flexible, less one-sided way” (22.2 percent).
The results of the survey also clearly indicated how those surveyed regarded the competitiveness of public schools of higher education: no fewer than 33.4 percent are convinced that graduates of private colleges and universities are better qualified than graduates of public schools of higher education. Under better qualification in this context, those surveyed cited how one presents oneself in general (63.8 percent), experience abroad (51.6 percent), theoretical knowledge (51.3 percent) and practical experience (50.7 percent), foreign language proficiency (49.9 percent), self-assertiveness (39.9 percent) and self-reliance (33.8 percent).
Overall awareness of the university reform project has changed considerably since 2004. In the meantime 65.5 percent of the students have heard or read something about the Bologna Declaration (vs. 19.3 percent in 2004). Whereas in 2004 the topics most frequently mentioned in connection with university reform were tuition fees (59.1 percent), funding of elite universities (27.8 percent), retrenchment/budgetary cuts (27.1 percent) or BA/MA degrees, this year the graduates are more concerned with strikes/student protests (19.9 percent), excessively high tuition fees (16.8 percent), the switchover from the old system (“Diplom”) to the new system with BA/MA (15.9 percent) and the related problems (14.5 percent). Concurrent with this there is less acceptance for public funding of elite universities. Whereas in 2008, close to half (43.4 percent) had nothing against such programs, two thirds of those surveyed (65.9 percent) currently regard this policy as wrong.
Regardless of whether or not tuition fees are charged at the colleges and universities, students feel that tuition fees should be used to better equip their schools (29.6 percent), to improve teaching (26 percent) and conditions of study (19.2 percent) in general, for better guidance on the part of the teaching staff (24.9 percent) and a broader selection of courses (21.1 percent), to expand/refurbish the physical plant (19.4 percent), for books/handouts etc. (17.2 percent) and for library modernization (11.2 percent). According to the survey, the tuition fees are, in actual practice, used to procure new equipment (24.1 percent), for books/handouts etc. (18.1 percent), for more qualified personnel (17 percent), for work on the physical plant (13.9 percent), for improved teaching (13.2 percent), for tutors/smaller class sizes and for administrative purposes (10.2 percent), and to plug fiscal holes (7.5 percent).