A few have already started. Riccardo Vastola, 28, studied marketing and communications, but founded a music business in 2009, organizing indie rock gigs, events, club nights in and around Bologna. It is officially an association at the moment, but next year will hopefully become a company.
“I felt I had to do this,” he says. “I had to do something I enjoy and that let me work with other people, create like a little family in my work. That was important to me. I’m not sure I could do a ‘classic’ job in some big company.”
For the moment, it is working: Vastola takes home less than 1,000 euros a month, enough to live on.
In Thessaloniki, the same motivation spurred Stolis to set up alterthess.gr, an alternative news website, with four friends.
He is not making money.
“But it’s really important to me,” Stolis says. “We’re working together. That’s hope for the future. I think more and more of us will be like this, doing our own projects. People have got it now. That degree wasn’t the key to prestige and security everyone said it was. And not everyone can be doctors or lawyers or engineers.”
Konstantis Sevris, a 25-year-old political science graduate in Thessaloniki, had a money-spinning idea: a youth hostel, with rented bikes, in a city with 100,000 students that does not have one.
“I’ve tried,” he says. “The tourist office told me there was no law in Greece for youth hostels. You can have hotels, or rooms to rent. There’s a lot of crazy like this in Greece.”
However, not everyone is ready for a brave new world.
“In Italy at least, they don’t teach that mentality,” Calzolari says. “They don’t create a culture where it becomes possible. In the US, start-ups get launched right after university. Not here.”
Most said they were largely happy with the quality of university teaching. They reject the idea of a strictly utilitarian system, tailoring courses and student numbers to available jobs.
“University has to be about developing our minds, too,” says Caterina Moruzzi, 22, a philosophy master’s student at Bologna. “People should be able to pursue what interests them. What would society be otherwise?”
However, many feel universities need to do more to prepare students for a new reality.
“We’re taught how to think, not how to do,” Pareschi says.
“University here is about learning, not working,” Calzolari says: “There’s very little connection with the world of work. Few internships.”
Almost all are worried about the longer-term consequences of the working environment they see being sketched out for them: Europe’s social systems, they point out, are all built around stable, full-time, long-term jobs.
“So we’re out there, building our own brand for hire,” Portillo says, in Malaga. “Except nothing’s set up for that. Say I go to the US, pay into a private pension fund for 10 years. Then I come back, at 41. The Spanish pension system isn’t going to let me opt out. It’s going to tell me I have to work 30 years, in Spain, for a pension. How’s that work?”
In Bologna, Martinelli much feels the same.
“I know I’ll never have a job like my mother had, teaching English all her life,” she says. “It could be great, lots of jobs. But only if when I’m ill I’m covered; when I’m unemployed I’ll be OK; when I’m 75, I’ll be able to retire.”