Poland's youth: no graduation balls, few jobs
Warsaw — ''Graduation day -- and no party and maybe no job,'' one of the 49,900 Polish students finishing this school year remarked with disgust.
''At least last year graduates had a ball. It made a sense of occasion even if prospects for the job one had qualified for were no brighter than now.''
Martial law precludes graduation balls just as its social restrictions deprive young people of their clubs, discotheques, and almost every other kind of outlet for their energies.
Added to current travel restrictions, it serves to heighten the frustrations of the young as another 8,000 who have trained for five years to be engineers, economists, doctors, teachers, linguists, and even veterinarians face the prospect of not being able to find a job.
It is an extraordinary example of the many paradoxes besetting Poland just now.
The private peasant farmers who till nearly 80 percent of the land are beginning to get a new deal. At last they are receiving coal and building materials, and better prices.
But the land is also crying out for modern expertise. Even so, with 6,000 graduates in farm and animal husbandry soon to be available, only 1,000 seem likely to find employment in agriculture.
The explanation apparently is that 50 percent of the graduate veterinarians, for instance, are from the cities. And most are women. Farmers are loathe to accept them on either count.
A linguist who does not want to teach, preferring instead to be a translator or interpreter, has bleak prospects. But becoming a teacher would mean facing oversize classes, doing without adequate educational aids, and receiving a starting salary below that of a janitor in an office complex.
''How can one hope to be a good teacher without the classroom equipment, access to more books, wider reading, more foreign language movies?'' one asks.
The lack of perspective applies to such specialized subjects as Mediterranean archaeology, but also to mathematics, electronics, and high technology.
The administration of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski is hardly to blame for the surplus of students. It is another of the legacies of the 1970s when -- as an official of the Ministry of Higher Education put it to this writer -- the supposed interests of the economy and its attendant ''success'' propaganda took precedence over the real interests of the students.
''That was all very well in the postwar years, even up to the '60s, when the student intake was about one-third of today's and when there were shortages of specialists of every kind and graduates could be quickly absorbed into the economy,'' the official said.
''But when the alarm bells sounded for the economy in 1976-77, they brought tremendous problems for the universities. Students simply could not count on getting jobs in their own education disciplines.
''There were, for example, ambitious plans for a giant chemical industry that Poland just could not afford or sustain. Yet each year the universities went on producing chemical engineers who had no chance of jobs as such.
''Then we had a spell of fabricated employment, that is, simply manufacturing jobs. Of course, it couldn't work.''
Currently, there are at conservative calculation at least 15,000 Polish students -- from last year's graduating class as well as this year's -- who are unlikely to find jobs in their chosen fields.
''Many graduates,'' the government's paper Rzeczpospolita commented, ''will have to seek other qualifications or learn trades and crafts after having spent five or six university years to become qualified specialists.''
In the country's present economic straits, there is not much the government can do except (a) wait for the postwar demographic surge that helped flood the universities to subside, as it is, in fact, beginning to do, or (b) start turning students away, though this is a politically sensitive matter.
But the problem is not just the surplus of students. It is also the ideological reluctance to concede that communist countries can and are facing the unemployment they blandly dismissed in the past as endemic only to Western private enterprise.
Since martial law officials here have rejected ''unemployment'' as a figment of Western journalists' imagination, even though the government admitted last year that some 400,000 to 700,000 people will have to find other jobs or take early retirement if the economic reform is to be carried through.
''Work cooperatives'' -- a kind of labor mart for high school graduates -- have not been successful. Last year only 400 new graduates found jobs through them, and half of those were outside their qualifications.
Now the government is instituting an unemployment fund (which it calls a ''professional activity fund'') to assist enterprises that take on university graduates.
This is a haphazard effort at this point, since the government seems to be counting on enterprises waking up to the need to pay their own way before the reform is complete. Most managements still do not know just where they stand or what they can afford under the new financial rules.
The old regulation requiring graduates to pay for their education if they take ''nonsocialized sector'' jobs is being waived. To encourage young doctors and teachers to go to small towns and villages, they are being assured accommodation and building plots, and credits to establish themselves.
But education officials admit that ''once there, they'll most likely find themselves stuck there for years with little chance of advancement.''
At present, more than 8,000 Poles are working in East Germany and nearly 6, 000 in Czechoslovakia on government-to-government contracts. But, in effect, they are guest workers, just like the Yugoslavs working in Western Europe -- with this big difference: The Yugoslav economy reaps rich benefits from this invisible export via hard-currency remittances sent to families at home.
Polish embassies have been instructed to investigate in their host countries the prospects of more jobs for Poland's prospective unemployed. But already, in the West, it is a shrinking market.
It remains an unlikely compensation for the bright but worried young Poles graduating from universities this summer.