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Science & Education

What does educational policy have to do with demographic development?

A lot. In a society of declining numbers on the one hand, and increasing age on the other, the skills and education of each individual within that society  is of critical importance in order to secure our continued wealth. Investment in the individual, the so-called 'human capital' takes on increasing importance for a sustainable economy and the society as a whole.

Demographic developments lead to increasingly difficult challenges - but also to opportunities for restructuring and innovation. To that end, we can begin educating our youngest at an earlier stage. The foundations for 'life-long learning' must start in kindergarten and school. These foundations will then be continuously reinforced in higher education and vocational training. Since the currently available pool of qualified professionals is decreasing, additional skill sets for both younger and older employees is becoming more important. Companies must prove their awareness in terms of responsibility for the future: they will be expected to invest in re-training and the provision of further education for their existing employees.

How does demographic change impact the educational landscape of Saxony?

Student numbers in Saxony have decreased dramatically over the past years, with numbers in middle schools and grammar schools falling by close to 50%. This resulted in a closing of around 800 schools in the Free State of Saxony between 1990 and 2005.

The numerous closures led to a stabilisation of the state's educational network.  Primary and grammar schools were able to compensate for the dramatic decrease in births. Metaphorically speaking, the net may have become wider, but at the same time much stronger: Both curricular and extra-curricular offerings are more varied, and the quality of education has dramatically increased due to targeted deployment of teachers and subsidies for schools. Well-equipped vocational training centres are leading the way into the future. The educational network, however, should also be laid out in such a way as to not to force students into long commutes. Here is where counties and municipalities are challenged to develop feasible solutions for their communities.

What is 'Life-long learning'?

Life-long learning revolutionises traditional educational structures and processes, in which the conclusion of school or of a college degree was oftentimes seen as the end of personal educational development. With continuously decreasing numbers of working age individuals, the renewal and reinforcement of knowledge throughout the working life becomes increasingly important. Life-long learning follows the maxime that older people can be just as productive as younger individuals, as long as the motivation exists to continue learning and maintaining skill sets at current levels of technology.

The principle of life-long learning builds on the interconnection between pre-school, school, vocational, college, and general as well as professional education and re-education, and will facilitate re-entry into a particular professional field, or the certification of skills gained in professional practise.

How can colleges and universities effectively respond to demographic developments?

The children of the early 1990ies, when birth rates were at an extreme low, are now entering colleges and universities. A lower rate of Saxonian grammar school leavers however does not impact colleges and universities as much as it did the lower level schools, since the number of first year students also depends on other factors, e.g. tendencies towards particular fields of study, and the number of West German and foreign students.

Colleges and universities are therefore challenged to offer a more attractive and competitive offerings than in the past in order to draw students. These institutions will also have to realign their study focus in order to educate more students in areas for which a high demand for professionals exists.

What effects will demographic change have on innovation?

It may be feasible that older employees may have a dampening effect on the economy's capacity for innovation, and the numbers of new businesses being founded. In the long term that may mean that there will be an increased demand for higher qualifications, and that the innovation potential in older employees will have to be targeted and accessed more directly.



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