The financial crisis – a destructive misfortune or a chance for renewal?



Quickly escalating crisis affects the entire Nordic region

The international financial crisis soon struck the other Nordic countries almost without warning, albeit not quite as drastically. The December issue of Analys Norden provides a good analysis of the situation such as it was during the week before Christmas. After Christmas the situation has worsened. The Nordic governments have introduced new crisis packages to help diminish the fluctuations and their effects on domestic demand. Everyone is afraid of rapidly increasing unemployment, and governments are resorting to counter-measures that were previously unthinkable. For example, the Norwegian government has dipped into its oil fund, and Sweden’s Minister for Industry and Trade has promised financial support to the automobile industry, when such support was”out of the question” the week before. No-one wants to raid state finances too much, as they do not want to be caught unawares by a second financial crisis that many experts predict is coming in a few months’ time. So far Finland seems to have escaped the crisis with the least damage. The traumatic recession of the early 1990s is still fresh in memory, which may have been the decisive reason for why Finland is a Euro nation today and thereby less sensitive to global currency attacks.

Education, education, education

The European Commission reminds us of the importance of education as a competitive asset. Now is the time to implement the Lisbon strategy and to realise its goal of making Europe the strongest economy in the world fuelled by competence and education. Citizens need to educate themselves now in order to stand strong when the wheels start turning again. But the European year of creativity and innovation has not begun well.
From a NVL perspective, this issue of DialogWeb attempts to grasp how authorities and other policy-makers in the region plan to prioritise and organise adult learning in these hard times.  In Sweden, several new initiatives for vocational education were included already in the government’s autumn budget bill, as well as funding for a new framework for vocational higher education (Yrkeshögskolan). But these measures require financial input from municipalities and other authorities, and municipalities have been forced to tighten their budgets rapidly due to bleak growth prognoses and shrinking tax revenue. The government has not proposed many labour market initiatives, while municipalities are having to discharge employees. Denmark and Norway appear to be in a very similar situation. The transition from labour shortage to fears of widespread unemployment has occurred at a record speed. Because of the crisis, municipal budget cuts coincide with a recession. Who, in such a situation, can organise educational opportunities that will enable people to emerge from the crisis stronger than before, and how should it be done?  

Powerful warnings

Powerful and well-articulated warnings are being issued from various quarters. At the World Forum on Lifelong Learning in October, Nicholas Burnett, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, boomed that “to cut education budgets is to gamble on the future of people .. we must continue to promote training in order to avoid marginalising people”. Sture Nordh, President of TCO (The Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees) has proposed massive and extensive initiatives with education as a central component. Without such measures, we face marginalisation, he says. The cost of the initiatives proposed by Nordh would be somewhere around 30–50 billion kronor.

A versatile contemporary document

This issue of DialogWeb takes a look at how the crisis is affecting individuals and organisations throughout the Nordic region. An Estonian article describes extensive discussions on how strategies of lifelong learning should be implemented and whether the focus should be on the individual or the labour market. In Norway, a programme that organises basic skills training in working life (BKA) has been extended to cover new target groups and new channels. The Danish company Davidsen Tømmerhandel in Southern Jutland has chosen to provide training for its 250 staff members in order to avoid discharging them and to prepare them for better times. A diversified course catalogue was produced in cooperation with educational institutions and authorities. In Finland, extra training and courses targeted at people who have been made redundant are being developed at the Adult Education Centre in Tampere. Similar activities are undertaken in the Icelandic Reykjanes peninsula by Virkjun, a centre which supports innovation and creativity among the region’s inhabitants.
To put it short – this year’s first DialogWeb offers a variety of reading matter about different paths towards the same goal.