Thursday, November 29, 2012

Finland: Best education system doesn't guarantee foreign students employment

Education is the cornerstone of development and any country that wishes to compete in a globalized world invests in education. Finland, a relatively obscure developed country in northern Europe, seems to understand the importance of quality education and is doing a better job than its Nordic and other western counterparts to improve its educational quality and output. On 27 November 2012, I was glad to learn that Finland's education system is ranked best in the developed world, followed by South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. The UK comes in sixth (6) while the US occupies the seventeenth (17) position. I instinctively shared the good news on my Facebook page and included congratulatory words for Finland: "Onnea Suomi". But I am under no illusion that the best education system guarantees foreign students relevant employment or jobs that match their education upon graduation in the Nordic country.

According to a 2012 report written by the Economist Intelligence Unit and published by Pearson, entitled The Learning Curve: Lessons in Country Performance in Education, Finland has the best educational system. The Nordic country ranks highest on a comparative Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment with a score of 1.26, while Indonesia tails the list with a score of -2.03. Results on the Index are based on inculcation of cognitive skills (mathematics, science and reading) and educational attainment (literacy and graduation rates) in 39 countries and Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China. 

Having the best schools in the world, as reported by Yle is certainly good news for Finland and thousands of people studying in Finnish schools. However, being a top dog in education is not enough. Graduates from the best schools and universities should be able to find relevant jobs after graduation. In Finland, all education and training leading to a degree is free of charge, although adult education institutions can charge a fee. Gender equality in higher education is relatively good - with more than half of all students entering universities and completing Mater's degrees being women. However, after completing degree programmes, the academic career of women in Finland becomes more difficult. According to a paper published by Centre for International Mobility (CIMO), titled Advanced and Unusual: Finland as seen by International Students and Trainees (see page 11) women are highly segregated in some job sectors. The same is true for international or foreign students - who are segregated in almost all sectors upon graduation.

Finland might have the best educational system in the world, but after graduating from universities some groups, including women and foreign students in international degree programmes, hit a virtual brick wall in the job market.

Numerous graduates from Finland's international degree programmes offered in English find themselves working as cleaners and dishwashers in Helsinki and other towns - long after graduation from some of Finland's most prestigious institutions of higher learning - due to difficulties finding jobs that match their academic skills. Some university graduates, for instance, end up working as contracted dishwashers in restaurants in some schools and universities. Others find themselves cleaning floors in child day care facilities, offices, cruise ships, construction sites and private houses. It is worth highlighting that foreign or international degree students are highly represented in this disadvantaged category of job seekers with degrees from Finnish universities and universities of Applied Sciences.

Some people argue that the plight of foreign graduates is largely due to language barrier. Many foreign students study in English and have little or no Finnish language skills, hence cannot compete with their Finnish counterparts in the labour market. This is a common argument put forward in an attempt to justify the low level of employment among university graduates with foreign backgrounds resident in Finland. However, those who blame towering unemployment on language seem to be unaware that even Finnish language proficiency does not guarantee foreigners employment - especially non-Europeans.

For many foreign students, limitations in the Finnish job market diminish the worth of Finland's top-notch education. A fancy degree issued by a highly rated Finnish university is not worth much in the labour market for many international graduates job-hunting in Finland. For many, leaving Finland upon graduation becomes the best option. It is mind-boggling why a country would invest so much in international Master's programmes and let its graduates languish in underemployment (working jobs that do not require high education) and forced to flee -  in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

The Pearson report puts Finland's educational system on the map and is bound to pique the interest of students around the world, and perhaps attract more international students seeking quality education. What the report does not reveal is that for foreign degree holders from Finnish universities, chances of finding relevant work in Finland after graduation are slim. It is very important for prospective international students to know this, especially those dreaming of finding relevant work after graduation. Helsingin Sanomat reported on 8 June 2009 that in spite of education, immigrants are not easily employed.

A survey in which 23 Finnish universities and universities of Applied Sciences participated revealed that 89 per cent of international students are "generally happy or very happy" with their Finnish institution and study in Finland. 83.9 per cent of the respondents would recommend their university or Finland as a destination for studies. According to the survey, students are concerned about finding a job after graduation. The survey shows that students seek not only a degree in Finland - many will like to find jobs after graduation.

According to Statistics Finland, 28,500 university degrees were obtained in Finland in 2011, 2 per cent less than in 2010. Of the degrees obtained in 2011, foreign students obtained 1,400 degrees and women accounted for 60 per cent of all degrees.

The unemployment rate among foreign residents in Finland hit 25.9 per cent in late 2009 - more than double that of the native-born population.

*Photo: United Education.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Inequality in the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme

A government that funds a programme and restricts participation to its nationals is not different from an entrepreneur, investor or individual who creates jobs and makes it company policy to employ only his or her compatriots; or a man who creates jobs and implements a discriminatory policy designed to employ only men.

The Junior Professional Officer (JPO) Programme provides marvelous opportunities for young professionals under the age of 32 working in the field of development to gain hands-on experience in the field.[Source] It gives qualified young people the opportunity to work in organizations and United Nations (UN) agencies, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Joint United Nations Programmes on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and others. Governments that fund the JPO Programme administered by the JPO Service Centre (JPOSC) restrict participation to their nationals - putting into question their commitment to guarantee equal opportunity for all people legally within their borders irrespective of national origin.

Through the JPO programme, young professionals working as JPOs gain significant experience of up to two years or more in the aforementioned UN agencies and developmental programmes around the world - working in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Russian Federation, Jordan and others. The JPO programme is a great. It accounts for 10-13% of the professional staff of participating organizations; it empowers young people and encourages them to participate in development work around the world. However, it has a surprising down side: it violates the principle of equal opportunity.

A closer look at the programme, especially the eligibility requirements for participation, reveals that it is discriminatory on grounds of nationality and national origin, and disproportionately empowers young people from donor countries - thereby breeding inequality between young people from developed countries and equally professionally qualified nationals of developing countries.

The JPO Programme is sponsored by a few "donor governments" and more often than not, only their nationals are eligible to apply for JPO positions. JPO vacancy announcements make no secret of this discriminatory recruitment policy. As of the time of this writing, donor countries whose nationals are eligible to apply include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, oil rich Kuwait, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, oil rich Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

It is fair to say that the aforementioned countries are doing a good job by creating marvelous opportunities for their young nationals to gain top-level international work experience. The countries are investing in the future by preparing their young professionals for leadership positions on the international stage. But by shutting out young professionals from less developed countries, the JPO programme breeds inequality. Some people would argue that donor countries should be free to decide how to spend their tax payers' money. This argument is invalid because discrimination based on nationality and national origin contravenes international human rights standards and, in many cases, violates national non-discrimination and equality laws. JPO Programme-participating governments have obligations under human rights covenants to guarantee equality within their borders.

No African country, as of the time of this writing, has sponsored the JPO Programme. This leaves young, qualified Africans in a disadvantaged position compared to their European counterparts. It is worth mentioning at this point that African governments are doing themselves a disservice by not investing in their young people. More often than not, state funds that could be used to sponsor programmes for young people, such as the JPO Programme, are embezzled and swindled into private coffers by corrupt officials.

On 20.11.2012, I received an email announcement of seven JPO vacant positions funded by the Foreign Ministry of Finland. I thought I was eligible to apply for one of the positions but two words (in Finnish) disqualified me: "...Suomen kansalaisuus" - meaning Finnish Nationality. The jobs are not sensitive diplomatic positions. It is unclear why the Foreign Ministry backs such as policy, despite the fact that Finland's  Equality and Non-Discrimination Act (Yhdenvertaisuuslaki) that came into force in 2004 expressly prohibits discrimination based on nationality, national origin and other grounds. Section 6 of the Act states: "Ketään ei saa syrjiä iän, etnisen tai kansallisen alkuperän, kansalaisuuden, kielen, uskonnon, vakaumuksen, mielipiteen, terveydentilaan, vammaisuuden, sukupuolisen suuntautumisen tai muun henkilöön liittyvän syyn perusteella."

A government that funds a programme and restricts participation to its nationals is not different from an entrepreneur, investor or individual who creates jobs and makes it company policy to employ only his or her compatriots; or a man who creates jobs and implements a discriminatory policy designed to employ only men.

Discrimination is what it is. Its definition should remain the same irrespective of whether the perpetrator is a government, international organization, or an individual. The JPO Programme is discriminatory on grounds of nationality and origin. It is a shame that the UN, an organization that promulgates "equal opportunity" and non-discrimination, allows such a policy in the recruitment of young professionals to staff its agencies and developmental programmes.

In "very limited circumstances", the JPO Programme recruits "very few" nationals of developing countries. As of 1 September 2012, there were 294 junior professional officers mostly working with UNDP. [Source] Only 25 (8%) of them were nationals of developing countries. [Source] Inequality in the JPO programme is staggering. Some effort has been made to recruit nationals from developing nations, but a lot more could be done. Recruiting "a small number" of  developing country nationals in "very limited circumstances" is tantamount to putting lipstick on a pig. Nationality should be dropped as a recruitment requirement.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

PETITION: To Chief of National Traffic Police, Finland

Recipient: Kari Rantala, Chief of the National Traffic Police

Subject: Guarantee Immediate Return of Driver's Licence

Dear (recipient's name),

I am writing to express deep concern in regards to the controversial seizure of a driver's license by police in Jyväskylä. The circumstances surrounding the seizure put into question the values of fairness and objectivity of the National Traffic Police.

On 28.10.2012, police seized the driving licence of X [name withheld here because the affected party wishes to remain anonymous online], a 29-year-old student of African origin in Viitasaari, Jyväskylä. He was driving to Helsinki from Oulu when he noticed a police van behind him in Jyväskylä. The van drove behind him for about 20 minutes and then pulled him over. The officers invited him into the police van where they checked his driving licence and car registration. According to his report, he was told that someone had called the police and reported that he had violated traffic regulations by driving over a yellow line and overtaking many cars in the process. According to the police, X overtook cars in front of him twice in a junction and once through the lane of oncoming traffic.

X disputed the claims to the no avail. Police seized his license - based on what they heard from a caller. The officers reportedly intimidated him to accept the claim but he stood his ground. Despite his word against the unknown caller's word, police seized his license for "gross traffic safety endangerment".

The police tested X for alcohol after seizing his license. Results revealed that he had not drank alcohol.

It has been three weeks, as of the time of this writing, since the driving licence was confiscated and X has not heard anything from the police. Neither has he been invited for a hearing. He has repeatedly contacted the Helsinki Police Department numerous times but there is no information about his driving licence. He has lost a job that requires him to have a driving licence.

I believe seizing a driver's license based strictly on hearsay constitutes a due-process violation and goes against values of fairness and objectivity promulgated by the National Traffic Police. The action of the officers in this case suggests bias based on the origin of the driver involved. I therefore respectfully demand the following:
  • Immediate return of the driver's license pending an investigation into alleged violation of traffic regulations
  • An investigation into circumstances that surrounded the seizure to ensure that there was no abuse of power by the police officers involved
  • Ensure that police do not take punitive measures without enough evidence to support a claim
I recognize the important role of traffic police in ensuring road safety. However, due process and National Traffic Police values of fairness, neutrality and objectivity should not be compromised in the process of keeping roads safe.


Fill in Your Name, Email Address, City and Country to Sign

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UPDATE: Petition closed for signatures.

*Photo: Yle.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Finland: Questionable seizure of driver's license by police

I received a phone call two weeks ago that brought my attention to a case of questionable police action in Jyväskylä, central Finland. I hoped the situation would be rectified fast enough so that I would not have to write this blog post. The incident hit a little too close to home because it involved someone I know personally. It puts into question the professional conduct of Finland's traffic police and their commitment to guarantee everyone within Finland's borders equal protection without distinction of any kind.

On 28.10.2012, a friend of African origin was driving from Oulu in northern Finland to Helsinki in the south. After driving for about 4.5 hours, he noticed a police van by the side of the road. The van followed him and drove directly behind him for about 20 minutes - during which he committed no traffic offence - then pulled him over. He was invited into the van - where his driving licence and car registration were checked. One of the police officers [name withheld] told him that an unknown person (presumably a motorist) had called the police and reported that he (my friend) had violated traffic rules by overtaking in an area where he was not supposed to. According to the [ghost] caller, my friend drove over a solid yellow line towards on-coming traffic.

The driver disputed the claim to no avail. According to a written report he submitted to a number of authorities in Helsinki, including the Central Police Department and  the Registry of the Ministry of Justice, the police intimidated him to admit the traffic offense but he did not.

Word against word

My friend's license was confiscation based on an alleged phone call from an unknown caller. One of the officers said he "trusted" the caller hence seized the driver's license for "gross" traffic violation.

In a clear case of one man's word against another's, the police chose to believe one party without enough evidence to support his/her claim. This constitutes a due-process violation and goes against values of fairness and objectivity of the National Traffic Police.

Everyone with a driver's license in Finland should be concerned. The action of the police in this case is an indication that it only takes one phone call from an unknown caller for a driving licence to be suspended. Anyone who perhaps does not like you - either because you are an immigrant, Roma, Black, White, Hispanic, Christian or Muslim - could exploit this simple option: call the police and have your license seized thereby making life difficult for you.

Imagine a world where police acted purely on hearsay. People would exploit the situation for personal gains.

Alcohol testing

It was only after confiscating the driving licence that my friend was tested for alcohol. According to his report, he had not drank alcohol for weeks. He was clean.

The police took his license and issued him a 5-hour authorization to drive home. He has not driven since 28.10.2012 and as of the time of this writing, he has not heard anything from the police. He has been left in the dark for two weeks without any information about his license.

Anti-immigration sentiments

The police acted strictly on hearsay. As law enforcement officers, they know better. Hearsay is not admissible in the eyes of the law, yet they seized someone's license because they "heard" that he had committed a gross traffic violation. Mindful of reports about the rise of racism and xenophobia in Finland, it is plausible to believe that the immediate seizure of the driving licence of a driver of African descent without due process was motivated by bias, race, color, ethnicity or other discriminatory grounds.

Petition for restoration of driving licence

Based on the conviction that bias and discriminatory motives instigated the seizure of the license in question, we decided to petition the authorities to immediately restore the arbitrarily suspended right to drive. The petition is addressed to Mr. Kari Rantala, Chief of the National Traffic Police.

In a country where xenophobia runs deep, it is dangerous for the police to take drastic measures based on phone calls from unknown callers. Punitive measure based on phone calls could encourage xenophobes to victimize immigrants and other people with foreign backgrounds by making unsubstantiated calls to the police. While such calls should not be dismissed entirely, there should be thoroughly investigated before acting upon. Seizing a driver's license without enough evidence amounts to abuse of power and a violation of his right to due process and perhaps equal protection of the law.

We demand the following:
  • Immediate return of the driving licence
  • An investigation into circumstances that led to seizure in order to ensure that there was no abuse of power by the police officers involved
  • Ensure that police do not take drastic measures without enough evidence
A petition needs signatures in order for it to have more weight. Please, add your voice to the call for the restoration of the driving licence in question by signing the petition. Your signature could make a difference.

The petition will be open for signatures until Sunday 18.11.2012 at midday. It will be delivered to the Chief of the National Traffic Police on 19.11.2012. The driver whose license was confisticated wishes to remain anonymous online. However, his name is mentioned in the petition that will be delivered to the traffic police chief.

Fill in Your Name, Email Address, City and Country to Sign

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UPDATE: Petition closed for signatures.

*Photo: TISPOL.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cameroon: An assessment of President Paul Biya's 30 years in Power

Following the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, the U.S. has had 44 presidencies and has seen 43 people sworn into office as president. [SourceOn 6 November 2012, Americans return to the polls to renew their 44th President's contract or elect (God forbid) their 45th president. Elsewhere in my home country, Cameroon, 6 November 2012 marks thirty (30) consecutive years since a politician by the name of Paul Biya was sworn into office as president.

Paul Biya, 79 years old, replaced Cameroon's first president Ahmadou Ahidjo after the latter's resignation in 1982. He became the country's second president since independence in 1960 and has been at the helm of government since then. His presidency has been marred by allegations of corruption, electoral fraud, economic stagnation, poverty and gross human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary  arrests and imprisonment of journalists and authors, and brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, including University student demonstrators. Freedom of speech and expression - the foundation of free democratic countries - are restricted. Intimidation by security forces is rife. The right to good quality education is limited. Dilapidated schools abandoned by the government are a common sight. The regime has failed many of its young school goers. In certain government schools, children have no benches or tables. Good roads are almost non-existent. Health care in nothing to write home about. The list goes on.

Allegations of corruption and embezzlement of huge sums of money by government officials are rampant, while many ordinary people live below the poverty line. Police corruption is endemic and happens with impunity in broad day light.

Unemployment stood at an estimated 30% in 2001. [Source]

At face value, you would think that Cameroon is a lawless state where human rights are unknown, but we do have laws that guarantee respect for human rights. In fact, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights are incorporated in our Constitution.

While Americans, disappointed with the pace of change and economic growth under a president elected only four years ago head to the polls with the conviction that their votes count, in Cameroon, the story is different: votes do not necessarily count. We have had one president with a track record of failure for thirty years. He recently won the 2011 presidential election that gave him seven more years in office. If you do the arithmetic - you will realize that Paul Biya will be 86 years old at the end of his current term.

Despite his record, there is little expectation that he will relinquish his grip on power after his current term. In 2008, his administration masterminded a controversial Constitutional amendment that eliminated presidential term limits - thereby highlighting the possibility that he could be president for life. The amendment was followed by a "riot" that was brutally suppressed by heavy-handed security forces. Demonstrators were killed and critics like a popular musician called Lapiro de Mbanga were arrested, persecuted and imprisoned.

I am ashamed to say that I have known only one president throughout my adult life. Many Cameroonians my age share my frustration and we long for the day when change will come to Cameroon.

Many people have asked me why we have allowed one man to take us hostage for thirty years. Many wonder why we have not [violently] demanded regime change. Some think we do not care about the wrong direction in which our country is headed.

The truth is --- we do care.

The motto of our republic is PEACE - WORK - FATHERLAND. We are a peace-loving people. This partly explains why Cameroon is a beacon of peace and stability in a turbulent region marked by coups d'état and civil wars. Cameroon hosts refugees from neighboring countries like Central African Republic and Chad. [Source] We have lost fellow countrymen in demonstrations against the regime and the impact of civil unrest around the world is there for all to see. We know what instability looks like and we do not want to go down that road. At 79 years old and counting, Paul Biya can not be on the "throne" for another 30 years. We have survived thirty years of human rights violations and failed socio-economic policies. We are unhappy with the state of affairs in our country, but we refuse to push our country into instability because of one man. Cameroon is bigger that one man.

By virtue of our motto --- we love peace; we love our Fatherland and we will non-violently work our way out of this political hostage situation. It might take some time, but the country will soon rise from the rubble. Cameroon is bigger that one man.

President Paul Biya - the giant of Etoudi - has gone down in history as one of the longest serving Heads of States. However, when it is all said and done, history will judge him as a failure; a leader who failed his people for three decades. History will frown on him and on the few people in the so-called "équipe nationale" who benefit from the spoils of his administration to the detriment of the majority. His supporters say one of his achievements is peace and stability that Cameroon enjoys. But make no mistake: Cameroon is peaceful not because of its leader. Credit goes to the peace-loving Cameroonian people who have been pushed to the wall in unimaginable ways but reject a violent uprising.

We the people of Cameroon deserve a Nobel prize for peace for our handling of the situation in our homeland.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

African scammers arrested in Russia

I usually don't comment on such things on this blog but the story of African scammers arrested in Russia on suspicion of scamming is hard to ignore. The internet is a momentous innovation and like many useful things, it has downsides: scamming is one of them. Anyone who owns an email address has probably received an email designed to defraud. Nowadays it's easy for fraudsters to pretend to be who they're not and to plan and execute fraudulent schemes soliciting money in the name of individuals or corporations. All this can be done online with the click of a mouse. The story of Africans arrested in Russia on allegations of scamming puts this into perspective.

According to Russian International News Agency (RIA Novosti), nine citizens of Cameroon and Nigeria resident in Russia have been detained in Russia on suspicion of using the names of Russian state-owned companies to swindle at least 900 million rubles ($28.8 million) from hundreds of firms in the European Union, United States and Southeast Asia. Russian law enforcement agencies reportedly believe that the actions of the West Africans involved in the scam damaged Russia's international trade relations.

The actions of the suspects also damage the reputation of Russia and more importantly - the reputation of their countries of origin - Cameroon and Nigeria. Such fraudulent actions could go a long way to hurt the developing economies of the two West African nations by scaring aware foreign entrepreneurs who want to do genuine business.

As an Africans and Cameroonian, this is embarrassing news but it should not be swept under the rug. I have no illusion that every African or Cameroonian or Nigerian agrees with me. There're those who think that such stories about the continent should not be highlighted by fellow Africans. Some argue that we should not air our dirty linen in public.

However, we can't sweep embarrassing stories under the rug and hope that they'll somehow go away. In order to redress a problem, it must be discussed. It's time we start having open, sincere discussions about the rogue actions of a few people and how such actions adversely affect us all. We must [publicly] condemn scamming thereby sending a clear message to scammers or prospective scammers that extortion is unacceptable. ourselves from such actions and seize every opportunity to highlight the fact that groups of people such not be judged by the actions of a few.

The suspects arrested in Russia reportedly face up to 10 years in prison and fines if found guilty.

I welcome the arrests. The culprits should bear the full weight of the law if found guilty. The governments of Cameroon and Nigeria should see this as an opportunity to take a tough stand against scamming.

Their actions are theirs alone and should not be used against innocent people from the region.

*Photo: Moonwell Photography.

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