Training people to spend the Euro

January 3, 1997

While European ministers gathered in Dublin to launch the Euro, European academics were defining the future business leaders who would be spending it.

More than 150 delegates from industry, academe and politics met in Lyons last month to decide the "Route Towards the Euromanager".

This will be someone who speaks three languages fluently, who has graduated with not only a good degree but substantial experience in a company and who has worked and studied abroad.

Organised by the top French business school, ESSEC, the conference aimed to draw up a blueprint for a formalised but flexible apprenticeship scheme involving young people in Europe's top universities.

About Pounds 1.8 million of European money has been put into a three-year pilot project starting next September and involving ESSEC and the universities of Mannheim in Germany, Warwick in Britain and Navarre in Spain.

In its first year, nearly 20 students will spend a year of their degree abroad, combining a university placement with work in a company. If successful, the scheme will be introduced to more universities across other disciplines.

The idea stems from worries about high rates of youth unemployment across the European Union.

Britain's Institute for Employment Studies annual report this year showed that while a degree still offered career advantages it was no longer a guarantee of a job. It also pointed to "increasing recognition that undergraduate students needed to develop skills relevant to the world of work".

Latest figures show about 8 per cent of 25 to 35-year-olds who have been through higher education in France are unemployed. In Spain, the figure is over 20 per cent.

France will need changes to employment law if it is to allow long-term work experience by students. Spain, which has recently reduced the length of its undergraduate degrees, may be unwilling to insert the extra year abroad.

Many European countries also regard "apprenticeship" with a certain snobbism. Germany's lecturers fear their high reputations being tainted by a practice until now associated with technical rather than academic education.

France has a similar problem. Jean Pierre Boisivon, director of ESSEC, said: "In France we are judged by our diplomas. We distrust entrepreneurs."

This is likely to be less true in Britain where students' levels of language skills will pose the main difficulty.

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