4th Dec 2023


The EU has a lack-of-teachers crisis — here's why

  • In 2022, almost 10 percent of all 18-24 year olds in the EU had left education early (Photo: Unsplash)
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Four-out-of-ten teachers in the EU are over 50 years old, and the job is not exactly attractive at the moment — either to retain them, or to attract younger generations to fill the gap.

Only seven percent of teachers were under 30, and even before the Covid-19 pandemic, only half of teachers in OECD countries were satisfied with their pay.

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As a result, staff shortages are commonplace in the education sector. They affect all sectors and a vast number of EU countries, for multiple reasons.

The main one is salaries, especially now that employees are having to cope with high levels of inflation that generally don't match wage increases — if any.

It is estimated that Germany will need 25,000 additional teachers by 2025. In Austria, another 20,000 teachers are expected to retire by 2027.

The average salary of a teacher in the public sector was €25,055 in the 2020/2021 school year. However, the situation varies from one EU member state to another.

For example, the gross annual starting salary in Germany (€54,129) was seven times higher than in Bulgaria (€7,731).

"Although, it [the shortage] is not only about the salaries," European director of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) Susan Flocken told EUobserver. "It is about working conditions in education, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic".

In 2020, a primary school teacher had an average of 13.6 pupils. The figure climbs in countries such as Romania (19.2) or the Netherlands (16.3).

Very large classes, a lack of work-life balance (or blurred boundaries between their working hours and their free time) or hybrid models of education have put additional strain on these workers.

For those who are considering entering the profession, the conditions and incentives may not be attractive enough. For the younger generation entering the classroom again as teachers, the situation can lead to rapid disillusionment, and for the older ones to early retirement rather than continue working under these conditions.

Poor working conditions in the education sector have led people to take to the streets in several European countries to demand better prospects. Since January 2022, Hungary has seen repeated demonstrations against stagnating salaries, a reduction in the bargaining power of trade unions, and an increase in maximum working hours.

Other countries such as Greece, Poland and Portugal, to name but a few, have also seen a surge in protests.

Discontent is rampant. In 2018, only one-in-four teachers in OECD countries felt that their profession was recognised or valued in society.

"First of all, what is very much needed is more public investment," Flocken said. "If we want to have quality education, we need well-trained teachers, so less of a short-term policy and more of a long-term perspective."

The impact on the education of the youngest will be one or the other, depending on the quality of the system. In 2022, almost 10 percent of all young people aged 18 to 24 in the EU left education early.

The countries with the highest percentage of early leavers are Romania (15.6 percent), Spain (13.9 percent), Hungary (12.4 percent) and Germany (12.2 percent). Except for Hungary, the other three European countries were among those where state spending on education fell below the EU average (which stood at 4.8 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2021.)

In the case of Romania, it was only 3.2 percent, second only to Ireland, which invested three percent of its GDP.

There is also the additional pressure on European education systems to cater for refugee children from the war in Ukraine, some of whom are in need of language and psychological support.

On Monday, (2 October) EU foreign ministers met with their Ukrainian counterparts in Kyiv to discuss, among other things, military support for Russia.

"This meeting has to be about other issues, including education," said Flocken.

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