7 Jun 2003 wspace   » (Journeyer)

Beta Education in The Netherlands and other small Western Europe countries

In my Dutch newspaper: "Multinationals complain about not enough beta scientists". Or something like that, difficult to translate. In newspaper headers they put as little words as possible, making it very hard to translate it to another language with as little words.

I don't know very much about all tech sciences, but I do know something about the computing science situation here in The Netherlands, because of my job. The situation with computing science here is worrying indeed. There are not much students doing CS at the university, it should be at least about 2 times more, year in year out. Surrounding big countries like Germany and France have twice as many students (in percentage) and they still could use some more. Why is the number of students choosing computing science here so small? Just because it is difficult? That could be the case but that would be very bad, it would mean the students are just too lazy, which does not correspond with my optimistic view.

How about prospects for the students? I feel this is the reason. If you get your M.Sc. in CS here and find a job then you will make a lot less money than if you have a M.Sc. in one of the management "sciences" or economy or even psychology, so called "gamma" sciences. It doesn't really matter what your major is. Just get a M.Sc., and as long as it is not too technical you can get a manager or salesman job and get paid a lot more. If however your education is beta, you will never have more than about 60.000 euros a year to spend, no matter how good you are. Unless you switch to a management job, showing "exceptional communication skills" and other "skills" like that. And 60k is really exceptional. The average is about 30k. Try to support a family with 30k a year. For managers and salesmen their "salary" is only part of their income, they often make more money with under-the-table-money, stock options and other extras. So the difference in expected income between beta and gamma is even much bigger than outlined here.

So it is no wonder there are not many people choosing a beta study. And the big companies (here that is Shell, Unilever, OCE, Philips, ...) used to have no problems with it. They just get more people from India and Eastern Europe and Russia and China and other poor countries. Everybody has to speak English anyway. It takes a little more time to learn English for somebody from India, which is a totally different language zone, than for somebody speaking a germanic language already, like Dutch. But look at my writings: I feel the English sucks, in style and in grammar. Believe it or not, where I work they think my English is good. So maybe it isn't such a problem after all to hire people from other language zones. At least for beta jobs.

But now these companies are getting "worried", the article says. They are afraid they will find themselves in "an unfit knowledge ecosystem". Or however you translate that. And of course they blame the government. Yeah riight. Like a government in a small country like The Netherlands can do anything about it.

Big successful software gets developed in the USA and UK, where everybody speaks English natively. Big European projects often fail because of the bad English education of the participants. This makes communicating with your coworkers really hard and often crazy. You should see the emails I get from people in France or Italy. I'd prefer them to write in their own language and then I'd use a dictionary to understand what they write. And what they write won't look so silly so it would be easier to take it serious. As it is now, you *know* they use the wrong word so a dictionary doesn't help. You have to guess.
Come to think of it, is there even one big successful European software project?

Attracting people to some kind of education is subject to (job) market workings. Like many things in this society. I think the solution to the looming future undereducation in beta science here is simple to solve. But I don't think it will happen. It's the money, stupid.

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