Monday, May 08, 2006

A Weekend in Göteborg

Babies and Toyota Priusses – those are the lasting impressions of my weekend trip to Göteborg (English: Gothenburg). I was visiting my friend Peter Mathoy, who is a business student at ETH Zurich but is on a semester abroad in at Chalmers University.

Soon after I got off the plane, I noticed like there were pregnant women and strollers everywhere! This isn't a coincidence, though: While the average woman in the Switzerland bears 1.43 children, the number in Sweden is 1.66. The slowing birthrate is a huge problem in the European countries: The young need to finance the state-run social and pension systems, and in order to achieve economic growth, you need workers. To keep the population size constant, you need to figure out a way to increase the birth rate to 2.1 (the so-called "replacement rate") or spur immigration – something that EU countries have been reluctant to do. After a cutback in the 1990s, the Swedes seem to be at it again – they provide significant support to working women with babies: free child care, time off after birth for mom and dad without the danger of getting fired, and so on.

A similar state-run incentive system seems to be the major cause for the huge number of Toyota Priusses in Göteborg's streets. Apparently, It's not unusual to see dozens of them parked in the same street. The reason: Hybrid car owners get a massive reduction in car taxes and free parking. Incentives and special tax reductions seem to be a popular tool of government in Sweden. A student I talked to favored tax cuts specifically for students – but is it really smart for the government to cater to particular interests, thereby creating a nation-wide loophole bonanza? I wonder if the high birth and hybrid rates could be replicated with more market-driven model.

The students I talked to seemed pretty relaxed. Most conversations at ETH Zurich at contain some bickering about the intensity of the workload. The relaxed attitude, however, is understandable: Students can re-take exams as many times as they want. Also, they receive 7000 Swedish crowns (US-$ 960) – half of it as loans – each month by the government. Still, I found it quite amazing was that everyone seems to be studying something very practical, even the girls. While around 80% Swiss girls seem to immerse themselves in sociology, linguistics, ethnic studies, and psychology, the Swedish girls are all studying engineering and economics. I'm not sure if my sample was large enough, though, to really make such general statements.

Even the coursework seems to be more practical. Anyone who's participated in the ETH-Chalmers exchange program tells me that the courses seem to be focused on technical topics and particular technologies. Very little theory is studied. I'm not sure this is a good thing to do: Twenty years from now, the only thing I'll still be able to use from my MSCS is the theory.

One thing the Swiss and the Swedish seem to have in common, though, is their patriotism. Blue and yellow everywhere. Of course, I had to have my very own Sverige shirt, purchased from the fine folks at H & M.

Pictures are here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yay for Swedish girls in your blog. Please create a new category ;)