Yvonne van Hest is responsible for the PEOPLE domain as Program Director at Brainport Development. In her columns for IO Eindhoven, she focuses on regional developments, backgrounds and trends in education and the labour market.
In order to do my job well, data are always useful. For example, numbers of students, vacancies and unemployment. Herewith we can see developments and how to respond to them in policy, but also in actions for economy, prosperity and well-being. Data are often the subject of discussion: are they measured correctly? Do we compare apples with apples and not with bananas?
Data of which we are quite sure concern the ageing of the population. For example, we can calculate for each country on earth what the birth and death rate is and how many people of which ages live (or will live) in that country (migration balance included of course). And so we also know that the number of old people in ‘the Western world’ is increasing and the number of young people is decreasing. Countries like Portugal, Taiwan, Poland, Greece and Singapore have the world’s lowest fertility rate; the average number of children of women in a particular country.
We all know that this has consequences. Countries that are still struggling with high youth unemployment, such as Spain, are likely to be less affected in the medium and long term. Simply because there will be far fewer young people. Of course, this is not entirely 1-on-1, because for this to become true, not too many jobs will have to disappear (caused by automation) and education will have to connect well enough (to avoid mismatches).
What we might not think of directly though, are the consequences for our schools. If we look at the demography in the Netherlands until 2030, we see that the first contraction has already started at primary schools and that the contraction in the coming years will mainly be noticeable at secondary schools. The (reliable) data for the Brainport Eindhoven region: as a whole, the contraction is 11.5% until 2030. And if we look specifically at vmbo (preparatory secondary vocational education), the contraction is much higher, namely: 19.4%. This is due to the so-called ‘upward pressure’. In other words, more and more children are going to the higher secondary schools havo and vwo (I could write a whole column about this alone, but well, let me stick to my subject for now).
This means that all vmbo schools in Brainport will have one fifth fewer pupils in 2030. In almost 10 years. This will hit the schools hard, because of the funding of a secondary school – the so-called T-1 funding. This means that as a school you get your money based on the number of pupils you had the year before. For example, if you had 1,800 pupils last year and shrunk to 1,400 this year, you get money for that 1,800 now and next year for that 1,400. If the number of pupils continues to decrease – not inconceivable with the increasing shrinkage figures I just described – you will have less and less money every year. And let’s be honest: as a school, you don’t want to see a decrease in the number of pupils, because that affects your right to exist.
In fact, there are only two things you can do: make sure that the Ministry of Education amends these laws and regulations, or make sure that you get more pupils. And if you get more pupils (in whatever way: more interesting curriculum, new construction, etc.), one of your neighbouring schools will by definition get fewer pupils. A certainty based on reliable data, isn’t that great?
So I think there is a third thing you have to do: work together. And that – if you ask me – is the keyword for all preparatory secondary vocational schools for the coming years: working together. Accepting that you all have to shrink, coming up with solutions together and above all: understanding that competition is not helping the quality of our education. We will not solve the shrinking itself. And I surely hope that – especially here in Brainport – we will succeed in preventing tougher competition in a sector that serves the general interest of our society.