100 kilometres from Barcelona, young people are forced to live with their parents until 30, with youth unemployment and rent costs out of reach. Our Catalonian studens pin the Spanish education system for inadequate training – and they have some constructive criticism for the European Commission.
The first contact with the Institute of Educational Research of the University of Girona arose when we found out that a branch of their research activities concerned several of our fields of interest: statistics applied to social sciences, measurement of youth well-being, active citizenship. Once having described the main features and objectives of the YouthMetre project, organising a Study Group was child’s play.
Girona is a beautiful city of 100,000 inhabitants located in the north of Catalonia, about 100 km from Barcelona. Its historic centre, the Barri Vell, is a labyrinth of narrow streets and stone buildings, among which the Cathedral and the church of San Feliu stand out. Here’s where we found a wonderful accommodation, overlooking nice locals and amazing alleys adorned by Christmas lights.
Just enough time to leave our luggages and our contact person, the professor Anna Planas, came to pick us up and bring us to a typical restaurant in the central Plaça de la Independència. Her colleague Pere Soler Masó joined us shortly. The dinner was an occasion not only to get to know the two welcoming and tireless professors better, but also to discuss our common interests and to be introduced to the current situation of the young population in Girona and Spain in general. A very pleasant and extremely interesting night, indeed!
Capitals rule over rural areas in quality of life
The day after, under a clear and cold sky, we set out for the Faculty of Psychology of the University. The latter is located in the heart of Girona’s historical centre, just beside the old walls surrounding the Barri Vell. Professor Planas led us into a large and bright room where we met thirteen young men of different ages and academic courses, ready to dive into the study group.
For the first time, we saw the participation of another important member of the YouthMetre board: Professor Raphael De Miguel from the University of Zaragoza. Thanks to his valuable presence we were able to focus on the content of the maps, and some intriguing details emerged. For example, by comparing the statistics of all countries, we found that the development index of the European capitals is systematically higher than that of other regions (with few exceptions). This means that the quality of life for young people is higher in big cities than in rural areas or less urbanised regions. Still, we noticed how political participation of young people in Spain, contrary to the audience’s expectations, is higher than the European average, both in terms of turnout and direct interaction with policy makers.
The young participants remained very impressed by the tool, even though they highlighted its excessive European dimension, which jeopardises a more useful “local-oriented approach”. According to them, YouthMetre would be more effective if it could open specific windows on each European Region, and of course it should be translated into each EU language. By doing so, it would be easier to stimulate interaction both among young users and between young people and decision makers coming from the same territories. In addition, some video tutorial to explain how to effectively harness the potential of YouthMetre should be realised and uploaded on the website.
To the Commission: culture is more than going to the cinema
After a prolonged and fruitful discussion on the tool, we went more in depth on the session’s themes. The young Gironians were at odds with the indicators chosen by the Commission in relation to “culture and creativity”. According to them, taking into account only youngsters’ participation in cinema, theatrical labs or sports associations doesn’t give a truthful picture of youth involvement in culture. The highest valued cultural initiatives in Catalonia are actually independent, and they are often off the record. Moreover, the new private dimension of cultural enrichment shouldn’t be underrated, with internet as a principal source of information and access to audio-visual content.
With regard to social inclusion, the participants claimed a lack of indicators on discrimination and bullying based on ethnicity, gender or disability. Taking these factors into account is essential to a full comprehension of youth well-being and to keeping track of political efforts to tackle discriminatory phenomena.
Unemployed and living at home
The final hours of our meeting were mainly dedicated to the major problems perceived in Spain and, in particular, in Catalonia. According to the participants, the inadequate education system is the underlying reason for the high youth unemployment. Schools and universities don’t provide students with proper means to trigger a process of real “self-development”: knowledge should endure over time and address all the areas of life, instead of being calibrated on mere labour market requirements.
Finally, the worrying phenomenon of young people living with their families until the age of 30 can be explained with the deep disconnection between the first working conditions and the real cost of living. Life costs have significantly risen in Spain in recent years, with fixed costs (for rent, invoices or mortgages) usually much higher than revenues.
Thus, young people prefer to save money over the first working years, postponing the decision to leave the family home. As Juanco said, “the government may partially solve this problem through a program of social housing addressed to youngsters at their first employment contract. Giving young workers the opportunity to live alone would be extremely important both for our country’s economy and, most importantly, for Spanish inclination to responsibility and self-confidence”.
Author: Vittorio Giorgetti