Croatian Graduate Perspective: The View from Matija from Zagreb

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© Matija Šalat / private archive
© Matija Šalat / private archive

1) First of all, please introduce yourself. What are you studying/what did you study? Do you have a job currently?

My name is Matija Šalat. I have a fresh Master’s degree in political science from the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Zagreb. I’m currently employed by a multinational company in their business operations department.

2) What is it like being a student/recent graduate in Croatia during the pandemic?

I can say that the pandemic “hit” me much less than it did the rest of the student population. In 2020, I only had a couple of courses left in my second semester, which we did online, and this academic year I was writing my Master’s thesis. The online form of teaching has its advantages, such as saving the time I would spend going to the Faculty. Still, the quality of teaching and the monitoring of the teaching, especially after all the efforts of the professors, isn’t at the same level as ”live” education is. Also, I think all young people share this opinion, that it was hardest for us to be separated from the people closest to us and dear friends in moments when human contact was more necessary than ever, but also dangerous as you could contract the virus.


Matija Šalat © Matija Šalat / private archive

3) What are your experiences searching for a job in your profession in Croatia?

The labour market in the City of Zagreb is becoming more and more active every year, and the job offer is huge. Since we’re a country where the last decade has been marked by economic hardships and the significant departures of young people abroad, the demand for a quality workforce is one of the major problems facing employers. There are actually three main areas of employment within my profession, namely; public administration, private consulting companies and the civil sector, as well as academic careers. As I recently got my Master’s degree, looking for a job in my own profession is my current priority. The Faculty of Political Science provides an extremely broad social education, and my interest is to find a place where I can further develop all of that, both in professional and personal terms.


Matija on one of his jobs during studying © Matija Šalat / private archive

4) What do you think of the Croatian Government’s efforts to provide opportunities for graduates?

I don’t believe that the Croatian Government should be obliged to directly provide every young person with a job opportunity, but it is important to provide the private sector with a quality basis for creating business opportunities. And I don’t mean fulfilling the wishes of the liberal part of the political spectrum on the abolition of taxes and regulations, but on setting the clear and consistent rules of the game. For example, I think a much bigger problem than the tax burden is that someone just won’t pay you for the work you’ve done, and the judiciary won’t protect you, or maybe the inspection will punish you drastically for a petty offense. We like to point out that the judiciary is the cancer-wound of our society, manifested precisely in legal uncertainty and inequality. So, there’s not only one thing that needs to be done to make things better, but a drastic change in behaviour and governance is needed.

5) Many young people your age decide to emigrate from Croatia to find a better job opportunity and/or living standard. What do you think about that?

I absolutely understand every person who decides to build their life somewhere else, but at the same time, a large number of those who leave could help change our society for the better. The problem of the outflow of social capital should also be looked at because the vast majority of highly educated emigrants have had their education paid for by us as a community in order to contribute to its development. That said, I certainly support anyone who decides to take this difficult step, and I hope that rest of us will build a society that will be attractive to them again.


With friends at the Faculty © Matija Šalat / private archive

6) In your opinion, what would encourage young people to stay in Croatia?

The main problem of our society is the criminally bad governance of our country. A significant number of young people who left did it not only for economic reasons but also because it turned out that this country values ​​political connections and acquaintances more than it cares about expertise and abilities. As all parts of the state apparatus are marked by inefficiency and corruption, the “little man” can only experience injustice. It’s this sense of inferiority that the state produces, precisely this difference between a privileged part of the population who solves their problems with one call, versus people who have to solve the same problem over a prolonged period of time (and the question is whether they will be even able to solve it at all), that makes people go on a mission to find a more normal society. I have to admit that I was shocked when I heard from a friend that in Denmark, in order to receiving a student scholarship having part-time employment is a must and it isn’t taxable. In our country, for example, until a few years ago, scholarship income was included in the non-taxable yearly limit of 15,000 HRK, which demotivated recipients in finding a job for fear of exceeding that limit.

7) Have you ever considered the option of leaving Croatia?

So far, I haven’t even thought about leaving Croatia. Many of my acquaintances and friends went on to build their lives in other European Union member states, and I’m sure that they didn’t regret that decision. Croatia is my home, and I’m bound by a great love for our country and optimism that things will change for the better.

8) As a recent graduate, what’s your impression of the education system in Croatia? What do you think is good about it and what could be better?

The education system, in general, is extremely sluggish and resists any change that tries to improve it. It’s a great thing that it’s widely available and provides a very wide range of knowledge, but its inefficiency is manifested in poor management. An example of this is the University of Zagreb, which, under the current chancellor, ceases to be the pride of our higher education system and declines from year to year. The question arises, of course, about the responsibility of the entire academic community that tolerates such things, as well as a large number of scandals and bad decisions which made the largest and best university much worse than it was only a few years ago.


Matija during a student protest with a sign which reads: “Croatia is rescued by knowledge, not politics” © Matija Šalat / private archive

9) Based on your own experience, would you say that everything is possible in Croatia if you work hard, work on yourself, and are educated and ambitious?

To a much lesser extent than in the rest of Europe, but opportunities do exist, yes. The development of the IT industry over the past few years has provided a large number of well-paid jobs for which political connections aren’t important. In addition to that, the lack of skilled labour for some areas clearly shows that within the private sector, this can go a long way. I think that we’re starting to respect individual ability and effort a lot more than was the case in the last few decades.

10) If you could change only one thing in Croatia, what would it be, and why do you think it’s important?

Although our society is marked by a lot of problems, if I had a magic wand, I would turn the judiciary into the total opposite of what it is today: reliable, efficient, and fair. An efficient judiciary would significantly improve our society, but more importantly, it would create a feeling among people that there are consequences for criminal behaviour, especially when it comes to corruption. 

11) As a young Croat, what are you most proud of in Croatia? (if anything…)

I’m extremely proud of the beauty of our country, on every corner there is beautiful nature and historic heritage which is evident in a number of beautiful towns. I’m also proud of our sporting successes. 


Matija enjoying life © Matija Šalat / private archive

12) Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Croatia, will it be a better or worse place for your children?

I’m extremely optimistic about the future of Croatia. An important factor of my view is the emergence of new political options that may change the way this country is governed in the next few years. I hope that together, we will contribute to creating a healthier and happier environment for all of us.

To read more from the  Croatian Graduate Perspective series, follow TCN’s dedicated page.

For more about education in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page.



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