Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnian Graduates Face Grim Future

With unemployment among young people close to 60 per cent, even the best university education is no guarantee of a job.
  • Young people sitting in a cafe during working hours. Some analysts accuse the young generation in Bosnia of wasting their time rather than being proactive in finding work. (Photo: Aida Halvadzija)
    Young people sitting in a cafe during working hours. Some analysts accuse the young generation in Bosnia of wasting their time rather than being proactive in finding work. (Photo: Aida Halvadzija)
  • Amel Mukaca, founder of a website krompir.ba (potato) that sells organic fruits and vegetables. He started the website as a hobby in 2009 and it gradually developed into a serious business. (Photo: Aida Halvadzija)
    Amel Mukaca, founder of a website krompir.ba (potato) that sells organic fruits and vegetables. He started the website as a hobby in 2009 and it gradually developed into a serious business. (Photo: Aida Halvadzija)
  • Students in front of the faculty of law in Sarajevo. Although it is one of the most popular courses, only a fraction of those who graduate each year can find work in this field. (Photo: Aida Halvadzija)
    Students in front of the faculty of law in Sarajevo. Although it is one of the most popular courses, only a fraction of those who graduate each year can find work in this field. (Photo: Aida Halvadzija)
  • Some young people in Sarajevo find work on building sites. (Photo: Aida Halvadzija)
    Some young people in Sarajevo find work on building sites. (Photo: Aida Halvadzija)

Samir Arnautovic, 24, graduated at the top of his class at the University of Sarajevo and is currently working towards master’s degrees in political science. He funds his studies himself and even finds time for social activism through a number of civil society groups that he founded.

But despite his high grades and his range of skills, Arnautovic has few illusions about his future after he graduates.

Unemployment among young people in Bosnia runs at a staggering 57 per cent, according to World Bank figures.

“There are a lot of graduate lawyers, economists and people with various other diplomas on the labour market today,” said Arnautovic, who studies law as well. “There’s massive competition, and studying multiple disciplines does make you competitive to a certain extent. [But] graduating from university is not enough any more, and being a top student is not enough, because it won’t guarantee you a job.”

Bosnia’s high unemployment is the result of a stagnant economy hampered by a corrupt, barely functioning political system, analysts say.

Almir Pestek, an economics professor in Sarajevo, says the fact that Bosnia is so underdeveloped makes it an unattractive prospect for investors.

He also argues that the educational system is not producing people with the right kinds of skills for the job market.

“The labour market’s needs are not synchronised with the educational system,” he said. “There is a huge imbalance between the academic world and the labour market, which is why we need to invest more effort in synchronising the two as far as possible.”

Benjamin Kadic, a key client manager at the leading job portal Posao.ba, says the most sought-after candidates are business administrators, followed by IT experts, mechanical and electrical engineers, architects, office managers and financial administrators.

Edina Livnjak, a student at the faculty of electrical engineering in Sarajevo, chose her course specifically to improve her chances of getting a job

“My decision to study electrical engineering has turned out to be a good one,” she said. “I really have high expectations when it comes to finding work, since most of my peers who have finished their studies have found jobs.

“However, it isn’t enough just to have a diploma in your hands. If a student isn’t making a big effort to learn things which are relevant now and which companies require, he or she can’t expect to be employed because of their diploma alone.”

Kadic agrees that the educational system does not channel enough students into high-demand sectors. And there are indulgent parents who encourage their children to wait for a good job rather than seizing a less appealing opportunity.

“The parents of these young people provide them with free food and accommodation and cover all their travel and other expenses for an indefinite period of time. That is considered absolutely normal. Unfortunately, Bosnian parents don’t encourage their children to leave their home and become independent,” Kadic explained. 

Enis, a 24-year-old student who did not want his real name published, has been studying civil engineering for seven years, although the course normally takes four years. He lives with his parents.

“I don’t see myself working in this field. What I wanted was to study acting, but due to the situation in our country and pressure from my parents, I enrolled in the faculty of civil engineering,” he told IWPR. “I’m certain of one thing – I am not interested in anything related to civil engineering. But I am determined to get a degree. I’ll study for another seven years if need be, but I will not give up until I graduate.”

Others are determined to pursue their dreams even if their chances of finding work are slim.

Last year, for instance, 123 students graduated from the University of Sarajevo’s department of journalism, and not all will find jobs in Bosnia’s limited media sector.

Even so, Merima Zavitan, a recent journalism graduate, has faith that she will eventually find employment.

“I’ve always been interested in journalism and although I know there are a lot of us in the market, I chose to study what I liked. I’m not a materialist or someone who’d study something they don’t like just to earn money,” she said. “I wanted to study something I was interested in, something I want to get good at. I believe in myself and I believe that in spite of the current situation in our country, I will manage to find work as a journalist.”

With dwindling opportunities at home, many young people go abroad. According to some estimates, over 100,000 young people have left Bosnia since the signing of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the war.

A report issued by the World Economic Forum in 2012 placed Bosnia 126th out of 142 countries in a ranking of brain drain.

Pestek, from the University of Sarajevo, believes that students must invest efforts in creating their own future and not wait for somebody else to help them.

“No one can solve someone else’s problems. Young people have to take things into their own hands,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is the basis of all change, and that’s exactly what we need in order to get through this process of transition.”

Amel Mukaca, from Fojnica, is already an entrepreneur although he is an economics student at Sarajevo University. In 2009 he founded Krompir.ba (“potato”), a website selling organic fruit and vegetables.

Using social networking sites, Mukaca started delivered fruit and vegetable packages directly to customers’ homes.

Although it started as a hobby, Krompir has become a serious business with five permanent employees and 20 contributing growers.

Mukaca says he wants to use his scheme to give other young people opportunities to work, although the response has been uneven so far.

“We really want young people to work for us, to grow fruits and vegetables, and to get an education, so that they can become our partners or employees one day, but they are not interested at all,” Mukaca told IWPR. “They are irresponsible; they regard this kind of work as primitive. So our employees consist only of older people.”

Mukaca added, “All young people go to bigger towns to look for office work. They don’t realise that in just one season here, they can earn more than they do working in an office for a whole year.”

Not all graduates are quite so choosy.

“I would accept any normal, respectable job, including one in agriculture,” said journalism graduate Zavitan. “I don’t think it’s beneath me.”

Pestek says that despite the shortcomings of Bosnia’s education system and its weak economy, young people can do much to improve their own position.

“We provide a formal education to students, but they need to invest in their informal education, which is equally important,” he said. “Students have to realise they themselves are the creators of their own world.”

Nejra Suljovic and Aida Halvadzija are IWPR-trained reporters in Sarajevo.

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s Tales of Transition project funded by the Norwegian embassy in Sarajevo. IWPR is carrying out this project in cooperation with the Sarajevo Centre for Contemporary Arts and EFM Student Radio. 

Nejra Suljovic and Aida Halvadzija are IWPR-trained reporters in Sarajevo.

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s Tales of Transition project funded by the Norwegian embassy in Sarajevo. IWPR is carrying out this project in cooperation with the Sarajevo Centre for Contemporary Arts and EFM Student Radio.