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Overeducation: When fish and chips are served by historians

Social Europe & Jobs

Overeducation: When fish and chips are served by historians

Many young Europeans are too educated for their jobs.

[Ed Yourdon/Flickr]

SPECIAL REPORT / In some EU countries, up to one-third of young people aged 18-25 are overqualified for their jobs, a new research project has revealed. Many of them are highly educated and multilingual, with university degrees, who are taking on low-paid jobs to avoid unemployment. 

If you are dining out in Edinburgh tonight, Ilaria Marchi, a 24-year old history graduate, might be the one serving you fish and chips.

Despite having a degree in History and International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Marchi, who comes from Italy and speaks several languages, was unable to find a job that fits her education.

“After my graduation, I hoped I could find an occupation related to the subjects I studied, so I decided to move to Edinburgh, since I could not see any good opportunity for me back in Italy,” Marchi told EurActiv.

“However, I quickly discovered that job opportunities linked to history are very scarce, and they all require considerable experience or connections that, as a recent graduate, I did not have,” she said

Despite having relocated to a bigger city, Marchi, like many other young Europeans, started to apply for jobs which she is well over-qualified for. Eventually, she was forced to settle for a job as a waitress where she earns £6.50 (€8.9) per hour.

“My wage allows me to pay the rent, bills and, thanks to my tips, I pay my food shopping. However, I need to rely on my savings for any extra,” she said.

Marchi has decided to go back to school and get an MA degree in Gender History, despite the cost, in order to raise her chances of finding a job she can be passionate about.

>>Read: Youth unemployment scars society, researchers find

Overqualified generation

Marchi’s case is far from being isolated. A research project by STYLE, the Strategic Transitions for Youth Labour in Europe, found that 33% of young people in Ireland are overqualified for their jobs. This is the highest level in the EU, followed by Cyprus (31%) and Spain (30%). The lowest rates can be found in Slovenia and Slovakia, where it’s below 10%.

Adele Bergin is a senior research officer at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in Dublin, and one of the study’s authors. She told EurActiv that the number of overeducated youth has risen as a result of the tendency in developed economies to continually seek to raise the proportion of individuals with third-level qualifications.

It could also be that individuals are being educated in areas where there is little demand, leading to people being particularly prone to overeducation, the researcher said.

She pointed to other research which has shown that there are lower rates of overeducation within the fields of engineering, mathematics, sciences, law and medicine, while graduates in the arts and social sciences tend to have higher rates of overeducation.

>>Read: Researcher: There is a role for EU policy on overeducation among young people

“If overeducation is explained by factors such as an excess supply of graduate labour, or imbalances in composition, then arguably there is a role for policy,” Bergin stated.

Growth in overeducation could be more effectively managed in most European countries by accounting for the level and composition of labour market demand within the educational planning process, Bergin suggested.

If governments fail to act, Bergin said, overqualified workers could be at risk of earning less, and have lower levels of job satisfaction than their better-matched counterparts.

Educational policy

Marianne Thyssen, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, reacted the study, saying young people should never be discouraged from getting a better education.

“Good education and the right skills are the best unemployment insurance. And a highly skilled workforce is the most important comparative advantage Europe has in a globalised world,” the Commissioner told EurActiv.

She said that the Commission is working to improve the forecasting of skills needs, adapt curricula and enable young people to make informed education and career choices. This will require increased collaboration between employers and the education system, Thyssen said.

Next year, the EU executive will present a union-wide skills agenda.

“It will focus action to help more people to develop and upgrade their skills, including basic skills such as literacy, numeracy and digital competences. It will also set out measures on how we can better anticipate skills needs and improve the recognition of qualifications,” Thyssen added.

Allan Päll, the Secretary General of the European Youth Forum, commented that the reasons behind overeducation relate to educational policy, where lifelong learning is not being encouraged enough.

“Many go on to academic studies, as vocational education has been shunned or seen as a dead end. By no means should we discourage learning, but we should make sure there is better counseling and that all routes to different kinds of education are always available,” Päll said.

The Secretary General added that skills mismatch is also a consequence of lack of jobs, and lack of quality jobs for young people.

“Young people do often go back to school if they cannot enter the labour market. Therefore public and private investment in job-rich sectors such as ICT and the green economy is needed,” he explained.


Between 2007 and 2013, youth unemployment reached record highs across Europe, dramatically increasing from 15.7% to 23.4%, according to Eurostat. 

EU heads of state and government agreed in February 2013 to launch a €6 billion Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) to get more young people into work.

Greece, Spain and Italy will receive €3.4 billion.

>> Read: Brussels unlocks funds for Youth Employment Initiative

Further Reading