Social disparities and regional differences in school-to-work transitions in Bulgaria

Ref. 11942

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The transformation of the Bulgarian labour market from state socialism to market capitalism has had a strong impact on the school-to-work transition of young adults. Young people’s passages from education to employment have become uncertain. Today, many graduates risk not gaining ground in the labour market and facing social exclusion in Bulgaria. A large percentage of unemployed people belong to minority ethnic groups, especially the Roma whose education and job qualification levels have remained very low and Bulgarian Turks, who live predominantly in rural areas. There are indeed important regional differences in terms of successful school-to-work transitions. The educational level of the rural population continues to lag substantially in comparison to urban residents. When it comes to gender disparities, Bulgaria may serve as an international role model. It seems to achieve higher gender equality in education and employment opportunities than many other countries. However, little is known how regional labour and educational opportunities impact ethnic and gender disparities in school-to-work transitions. The research project aims at better understanding the mechanisms behind educational (un)success and school-to-work transition in contemporary Bulgaria, including social and ethnic inequalities as well as the relatively low gender segregation of these transitions. Conceptually, the project uses one central argument to understand school-to-work transitions. It investigates the role of the Bulgarian education system in creating social, ethnic and regional disparities in school-to-work transitions by while maintaining a relatively low level of gender segregation on the labour market. A nationally representative school-leaver survey for Bulgaria will provide detailed data about pathways that lead young women and men from different social and ethnic backgrounds along different educational tracks to different positions in the labour market. Embedded in this survey, regional case studies of three distinct Bulgarian regions (the remote North Western region, the Blagoevgrad district in the South Western region, and the metropolitan Sofia district) will be used to analyse the consequences of differing educational offers on individual school-to-work transitions. Finally, international comparative analysis of the Bulgarian survey data with Switzerland and other European countries serves to diagnose both the strengths and shortcomings of the Bulgarian transition system. The research project will have broader implications for Bulgarian and Swiss policy makers. On the one hand, it will reveal mechanisms to produce a more integrative education system in Bulgaria, to enable smoother school-to-work transitions, and to more effectively restructure education systems in remote areas, such as in the North Western planning region. On the other hand, Swiss policy makers will be able to learn from the Bulgarian education system, which is unique in terms of producing only little gender segregation.


Expected results The school-leaver survey allows us to identify young people’s pathways along different educational tracks to different employment positions. This is particularly timely and important since many graduates risk not gaining ground in the labour market and facing social exclusion in Bulgaria. To date, our analyses have shown that: The access to higher education for people born in villages has not improved significantly in the post 1989 period; the educational choices of girls are more strongly influenced by their parents’ education compared to the choices of boys; Bulgarian vocational education steers men into male typed work while higher education promotes their employment in female typed occupations. These and future findings from the study aid in better understand the role of social, ethnic, regional and gender inequalities in the school-to-work transitions. The project thus can contribute to several policy priorities of the country: reducing youth unemployment, implementing education reform, expanding the dual-system of vocational training and education, and addressing social exclusion.