Higher education gives young people more job opportunities and better wages

Young people continue to have, on average, lower salaries, but having a higher education course seems to guarantee more and more job opportunities and better pay, suggests a report released this Thursday.

The conclusion is contained in the 2024 edition of the report “State of the Nation: Education, Employment and Skills in Portugal”, released this Thursday by the José Foundation Neves, which paints a portrait of the country looking at the state of education, employment and skills.

Unemployment rate and Higher Education

After the pandemic crisis, youth unemployment levels returned, in 2023, to approach the values ​​recorded before the covid-19 pandemic, but the recovery affected, above all, young people with higher education.

Last year, the unemployment rate between 25 and 34 years old stood at 7.4%, but in the case of young people who did not complete higher education it reached 9%, standing at 5.3 % among the remainder and the lowest rate of the period analyzed (between 2011 and 2023).

According to the report, job opportunities are greater for candidates with higher education and more and more job offers require a master’s degree or a doctorate.

Also with regard to the employability premium, which represents the difference in the probability of being employed for individuals with comparable characteristics, there was, during the pandemic, a considerable increase in the associated premium obtaining a master’s degree.

Young people remain the lowest paid age group

The value of higher education in the job market is also measured by salary differences and if having a higher education degree is associated with more opportunities, it is also associated with better salaries.

The report states that the additional gain associated with higher education which, in relation to secondary education, is around 49% for the population between 18 and 64 years old and 34 % for young people between 25 and 34 years old.

On the other hand, between 2022 and 2023, the real salary of young people increased, on average, by 3.9%, but this increase was not the same for everyone and, in the case of higher education graduates, it was around the 7%.

Still, young people between 25 and 34 years old continue to be the lowest paid age group, regardless of their qualifications: in 2023, they received, on average, a real salary of 1,004 euros, less 176 euros compared to young people with higher education.

Adult education and training

With regard to higher education, the report looks at the evolution of training in Portugal and outlines a scenario for getting closer to the goals set by the foundation o until 2040.

From the decrease in the proportion of adults without completing secondary education (from 42% in 2022 to 40.6% in 2023) to the increase in the employment rate of recent graduates (from 78.4 % in 2022 to 78.8% in 2023), the authors also highlight the slight growth in the proportion of adults participating in education and training programs (from 13.3% in 2022 to 13.4% in 2023).

It is adults with higher education who participate most in education and training and among those with less education, with only basic education, participation does not go beyond 5 ,two%.

“Given the high percentage of adults in Portugal with this level of education (more than double the European average), this low rate of participation in education and training assumes special importance , constituting an obstacle to the rapid qualification of adults, facilitating their better adaptation to the job market”, they warn.

On the other hand, there was a slight decrease in the proportion of young adults with higher education (from 42.5% in 2022 to 40.9% in 2023), still a reflection of the impact of the pandemic on the increase dropout rates and time to complete courses.

Technologies and digitalization are the choice of one in three vocational education students

The study also concludes that technologies and digitalization are the most popular areas among vocational education students, chosen by one in three students.

In the last decade, the number of students in vocational education has decreased slightly, today they represent around 33% of secondary students, but more and more are finishing the course and more and more are continuing their studies .

In the 2021/2022 academic year, 84% of finalists completed the course (in 2014/2015 it was 70%) and in the previous year, to which the most recent data refer, 24% went on to higher education (in 2014/2015 they were 15%).

Computer Science and Electronics and Automation are those that lead more students to continue their studies, but technologies and digitalization are also the most popular in secondary education .

According to data released in the report, 14.4% of graduates in 2021/2022 were from courses related to Computer Science, the most popular area followed by Audiovisuals and Media Production (9.5%) and Electronics and Automation (5.3%).

When they move on to higher education, the options are divided, practically equally, between obtaining a degree or enrolling in a Higher Professional Technical Course (CTeSP), which does not confer an academic degree.

In these courses, created in 2014, students from higher education are in the majority (76% in 2021/2022), but demand has increased exponentially among all, from 395 students in the first year to 21,263 enrolled in 2022/2023 .

There is also a preference for technologies, with around a third of those enrolled being concentrated in areas such as Design and Administration of Databases and Computer Networks, Development and Analysis of ‘Software’ and IT Applications, Audiovisual Techniques and Media Production, and Electronics and Automation.

Given this scenario, the authors of the report see professional education as a potential partner in Portugal’s digital transition, but warn of the “urgent need” to socially value this path of education and to reinforce initiatives that contribute to improve student performance.

The weaknesses of higher education are revealed in the results of the international PISA 2022 study, says the report.

In addition to the more pronounced drops in performance in all domains, compared to their counterparts on scientific-humanistic courses, PISA 2022 also confirmed that student performance is better the higher the status socioeconomic.

“Almost half of the professional’s students come from contexts of low socioeconomic status, which further suggests some prejudice towards this type of teaching”, states the report.


Francesco Giganti

Journalist, social media, blogger and pop culture obsessive in newshubpro

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