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Graduates in Italy and Spain have low

basic skills, says OECD report


Report says university graduates in the southern Europe are less
skilled than high school leavers in Japan and Holland
University graduates in Italy and Spain have been singled out as having particularly low basic skills by
the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as it warned that the picture "fit"
with high unemployment levels in the southern European countries.
In its annual report on education in richer nations, which for the first time measured basic skills such as
literacy against education attainment, the OECD found that Italian and Spanish graduates were, on
average, less skilled than high school leavers in the highest performing nations, Japan and the
Netherlands.
On average across 22 OECD nations, 24% of people with a degree or a further education qualification
reached a high standard level four or five on a standard literacy test.
But in Italy and Spain, only 12% of college graduates reached that level, placing the countries joint
bottom in the rankings. In Japan, 13% of high school students reached level four or five, with 14% doing
so in the Netherlands.
Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's director of education and skills, said: "If you are a high school
graduate in Japan you have better skills than a university graduate in Italy and Spain. This is important.
When you look at employment data, you might ask why so many graduates in Spain and Italy are
unemployed. But when you look at the skills it fits. They are actually not particularly highly skilled."
But Professor Massimo Egidi, an economist and rector of LUISS Guido Carli, a private university in
Rome, dismissed a link between the results and Italy's 43% youth unemployment rate for under 24year-olds. The general joblessness rate in July stood at 12.6%, according to the country's national
statistics body Istat.
"If it were true that there was high unemployment among young graduates in Italy because the quality
was low, we would be full of companies in which Italians were taking on Japanese and Dutch
[employees]. This does not seem to me to be the case at all. The problem is something else entirely.
The problem is a mismatch between demand and supply. It is not the quality of the supply, but the
mismatch," said Egidi.
He said the university system was producing graduates "in the wrong proportions" for the labour
market: too few engineers, for instance, and too many lawyers. Change was needed to smooth out this
"huge imbalance", he added, but insisted quality, particularly among science graduates, could not be
seen as a contributing factor to unemployment.
"The quality of the engineers, for example, and of physicists and biologists who have been educated in
Italy is very high," he said. "And it is just as true that young people who don't find work in Italy do so
easily abroad: in England, in America, and in Europe in general. You'll find many Italian engineers in
Germany and many Italian economists in London."
Regardless of the debate over their impact on Italy, the OECD results would not come as a surprise to
some. Italy and Spain came bottom of an OECD ranking for basic literacy and numeracy skills last year
as well.

Duncan McDonnell, a senior lecturer at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, who taught
undergraduates at the University of Turin for several years and was subsequently based at the
European University Institute in Florence, argues that the way the Italian system works often has the
unfortunate consequence of students not learning "any significant writing skills" during most of their
time at university.
"One particular Italian problem which I found regarding literacy is this: most exams in Italian universities
are still oral exams," he said. "Students get very little experience of writing during their undergraduate
years until, right at the end, they are asked to produce a long dissertation. It is absolutely crazy: they
have no preparation for doing so."

Lizzy Davies in Rome and Peter Walker


theguardian.com, Tuesday 9 September 2014 10.31 BST