Education the key out of crisis

05.03.2012
Unemployment among young people poses the greatest threat to welfare society while education is the key to securing its future. This was the message presented during a panel debate involving Nordic Ministers for Co-operation at the House of Literature in Oslo.

“The biggest challenge the Nordic countries face is unemployment among young people. A solution we have introduced in Norway is adapting the framework of the educational system. Ninety per cent of those who have completed upper secondary education are employed ten years later, versus only ten per cent of those who did not,” stated Rigmor Aasrud, Norway’s Minister for Co-operation.

Knowledge-intensive working life

Iceland has suffered the most of all Nordic countries in the period of financial instability that began in 2008. As Iceland’s Minister for Co-operation, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, acknowledged, the crisis has led to severe reductions in public spending.

“We have cut the education budget by 20 per cent and spending for the cultural sector by 25 per cent. Welfare spending has also been curbed, yet the crisis has made us more cognisant that we are an integral part of the Nordic region. We have made adjustments to our tax system to bring us more into alignment with the other Nordic countries. And we realise that our working life needs to become more knowledge-intensive; therefore, we will be investing in education and research in the future,“ stated Ms Jakobsdóttir.

Unemployment among young people definitely needs to be put on the agenda,” said the first speaker of the debate, Roar Flåthen, President of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions. He pointed out that unemployed youth have no channel for contributing to society and that this marginalises them. In his opinion, this is the most serious aspect of the today’s situation.

“We must focus on research, innovation and education – cornerstones of the Nordic model for many years now,” said Mr Flåthen.

Education works

Denmark’s Minister for Co-operation, Manu Sareen, also sees education as a solution and considers it a way of investing in people.

“That so many individuals fall out of the system and don’t get an education is a problem in both the EU and Denmark. It leads to social as well as financial hardship and is potentially dangerous if left unsolved. But by putting our heads together the Nordic countries can overcome the challenges facing us in the future,” said Ms Sareen.

Palle Christiansen, Greenland’s Minister for Co-operation, is convinced that education works. He described the unusual situation in Greenland.

“We may have to import thousands of Chinese in order to get some money into the state coffers. The proportion of people with an education in other Nordic countries is close to 80 per cent; we have only 45 per cent,” explained Mr Christiansen.

Mutual Nordic learning

The theme of the panel debate was the Nordic dream, looking at the potential Nordic solutions to the challenges of the welfare state.  Espen Stedje, General Secretary of Foreningen Norden (the Nordic association), opened the event by asking what the Nordic dream really comprises.

“We are all familiar with the American dream, but is the Nordic dream an individual or a collective dream?” Mr Stedje pondered.

The Nordic model works well enough for Nordic Prime Ministers to be invited to Davos to speak about it. The model varies a bit from country to country but, according to Minister Aasrud, Norway has not carried out a single important welfare reform without first visiting one of the other Nordic countries to see how the issue had been solved there.

“During our chairmanship period we are focusing on mutual learning, not just in relation to the welfare model, but also regarding other issues such as border obstacles and the common Nordic labour market,” said Ms Aasrud.

Greenland is also tapping its Nordic neighbours for experience and knowledge. Mr Christiansen explained that Greenland had initially adopted the Danish system with a large administration but that they are now in the process of trimming it down.

“We are adapting the model to our small society. We espouse what succeeds elsewhere and we are working to strike a balance between being a provider and a welfare state,” explained Mr Christiansen.

Text and photo: Kristoffer Vikebak, Norden i Fokus

Translation: Glenn Wells and Carol B. Eckmann

Image caption: The Nordic Ministers for Co-operation. From left: Palle Christiansen, Greenland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Iceland, Annika Olsen, Faeroe Islands, Rigmor Aasrud, Norway, Manu Sareen, Denmark, Ewa Björling, Sweden and Veronica Thörnoos, Åland. The Minister from Finland was unable to attend the debate.

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