Have you ever thought of immigration?

Sociologist: "Experience the most qualified immigration ever"

daStandard.at: If we look at the influx of migrants and refugees in recent years, how does it differ from the previous migratory movements?

Gächter: The migrants of the past ten to fifteen years are much more educated than those in the past. We are currently experiencing the most qualified immigration that we have ever seen.

daStandard.at: Does that also apply to the current refugees?

Gächter: Yes, the many refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan who are currently coming to Austria have an above-average education. We could fill entire universities with them.

daStandard.at: Are there also statistics on the level of education of immigrants in recent years?

Gächter: About half of the immigrants who have moved here in the past ten years have a high school diploma or higher. Around a quarter have intermediate education and around a quarter have low education. Unfortunately, the public focus is very often on the neighborhood with little education.

daStandard.at: It seems that the Austrian public is finding it very difficult to get used to the new form of migration and the clichés that exist about guest worker migration are being transferred to the new immigration without reflection.

Gächter: Exactly, that's an anachronism. When people think of migration, many actually still think of the old guest worker migration. You haven't changed your mind yet. Today's migration has little in common with guest worker migration, as you can see from the migrants' qualifications.

daStandard.at: The AMS figures only partially confirm this. Why is that?

Gächter: The AMS should no longer do it, but unfortunately it still does in many cases - namely only record qualifications that are formally recognized in Austria. A university professor's database can also contain "compulsory school diploma". Although there are some lively debates within the AMS about changing this practice, this is unfortunately still a sad reality at the moment.

daStandard.at: This is very tragic for the people involved, because they are conveyed on this basis.

Gächter: Yes, in Austria we have numerous people with university degrees who only do auxiliary jobs, or a large number of migrants work in areas below their qualifications. The OECD compared this phenomenon internationally in 2011 and found that it is particularly pronounced in Austria.

daStandard.at: Why is that?

Gächter: This is a combination of several factors. On the one hand, we have the nostrification problem in Austria, which leads to the dequalification of a large number of migrants. I did an investigation for the AMS Tirol and submitted fictitious applications to HR managers from larger companies for assessment. The statistical analysis has shown that they would have no problem in themselves hiring qualified migrant personnel. But if the qualifications are not formally recognized in Austria, i.e. at the moment when the companies themselves have to decide whether this qualification meets the requirements, that is a huge problem for most of them.

On the other hand, I suspect that this is due to the fact that we have a strong dominance of middle education on the Austrian labor market - especially apprenticeship degrees, except in Vienna - which is rarely found anywhere. Most migrants, however, have a high school diploma or higher. It would be conceivable that if higher education becomes more relevant in Austria, that dealing with higher education from abroad will also be less tense. Even today, people in Vienna are different from those in Lower Austria. You can see that very clearly from the data.

daStandard.at: You said earlier that you could run an entire university with the large number of refugees. Why does Austria not use this existing knowledge?

Gächter: I've been asking myself that for years. We have so many highly educated migrants with us and new ones are constantly being added. That's thousands of people we're talking about here. With these people, probably alone with those who are currently in the asylum procedure, one could found a university, the "refugee university". I'm not the only one who thinks that way, either.

daStandard.at: Do you have any more specific suggestions as to what such a university should look like?

Gächter: I've already given it some thought, but I'm not a big organizer. People could either teach in their subjects, about their countries and experiences, or their language. It doesn't have to be in German either. There are enough people who could hear and understand this in English or in the speakers' mother tongues. I'm not just thinking of conventional students, but rather listeners of all age groups who want to find out more. Even if they did not get any ECTS points for it at first, since such an offer would probably not be accredited at the beginning. And they would probably also be willing to donate or pay an adequate contribution.

I think that would also be interesting for foreign students. For Austria that would be an export of educational services, and then the proverbial Chechen university professor of Russian literature can teach this for a few months a year. We could certainly be more proud of it than send them clean. (Siniša Puktalović, August 14, 2015)

August Gächter is a sociologist. He worked at the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) from 1991 to 2002 and has been with the Center for Social Innovation since 2002. His work and research focus are in the areas of migration and development, the labor market and equal opportunities.