University: a hindrance to knowledge

Nieuws | de redactie
22 mei 2013 | “Universities don’t know what useful knowledge is” and “the EU’s seventh framework programme for research is the worst thing ever.” Péter Halácsy, the founder of Prezi, has unorthodox ideas on how to solve youth unemployment in Europe.

Recently Europe’s 27 member states recommended to reserve money for the smooth transition between school and work. The Youth Guarantee Scheme aims to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 who lose their job or do not find work after leaving education quickly receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship.

While youth employment figures in Europe are worsening, young entrepreneur  Péter Halácsy is hardly convinced by the policy measures, the mere term ‘Youth Guarantee Scheme’ makes him chuckle: “There simply is no guarantee for young people and we shouldn’t pretend that there is. You have to teach yourself skills and you have to organize yourself in local communities.”

Doing what everybody does

Halácsy started his own career as a web developer working at a company before he became assistant professor at a university. “I did then what everybody does: work on 6 projects at the same time and publish results that nobody cares about. Then I took the decision to work only on Prezi.”

Prezi is an online presentation tool that helps you share ideas in a post-PowerPoint fashion. The internet start-up company has currently 120 employees. Halácsy: “We would like to hire 60 more people this year. That’s our answer to youth unemployment.”

Next to Prezi Péter Halácsy is involved in several social initiatives, Bridge Budapestfor instance. “In this project I like to encourage entrepreneurial thinking. Bridge Budapest gives fellowships to young people who want to visit companies like Facebook. The only thing we ask from them is that they tell their stories when they get back.” 

Worst thing ever

On Europe’s research funding Halácsy is fiercely critical “FP7, the EU funding program for R&D, is the worst thing ever, we keep the best people in universities and nobody is interested in the results of their research. I used to be a university professor using FP6 money. Our problem: we could never define what is good research.”

It was Halácsy’s co-founder that made him quit university and chose an entrepreneurial life. “I was always told that university was a safe job. If nobody in your environment, your family, your friends, believes in what you’re doing, it is difficult to make the turn. Peter Arvai said that I should leave, this was the turning point.”

The asshole professor

Another project that Halácsy started is that of the Girl-Geeks. Why? “Because I am bored with all the men in suits that dominate the new technology-world. Girls hear in school that math is for boys and start acting accordingly. You never run into famous girl hackers. And when I was in university I remember what an asshole my professor was to girls.”

The Prezi-founder regards universities as hindrances to knowledge rather than vehicles of knowledge. What skills do young people need to make them interesting for employers? Halácsy: “Basically reading, writing and coding. I would ask universities ‘please don’t teach useful knowledge’, because we really don’t know what knowledge we need in one or two years. We need universities to teach basic skills.”

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