Saturday, November 5, 2011

Education in South Korea-Glutted with graduates

THE vast majority of South Korean youngsters graduate from high school, and of these, 82% go on to university. This is the highest rate in the OECD and, for a country which had an adult literacy rate of just 22% in 1945, it is an extraordinary achievement.

With the high cost of tuition though—and a lack of decent jobs available for the vast numbers of graduates that the nation’s universities churn out every year—many are now asking whether South Korea’s education fetish has gone too far. At 148 out of 205 universities surveyed by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology in 2009, a majority were unable to find proper jobs. Some are calling it a glut of graduates; others hear an echo of this season's education-bubble talk in America.

Korea’s Confucian legacy and the experience of the post-Korean War generation (who saw education as the way out of poverty), have combined to make a university education seem like a baseline necessity. Now the government is trying to break this outlook. The president, Lee Myung-bak, warns that “reckless entrance into college is bringing huge losses to families and the country alike.” More tangibly, “professional footballers just need to be good at kicking balls. They don’t need to graduate from Seoul National University.”

Mr Lee’s administration has been pressing large Korean firms to employ high-school graduates without university educations. South Korea’s 18 banks are thus doubling their non-graduate intake, with Kookmin and Woori Bank reserving 13% of their new jobs for those without degrees. Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Company is setting up a training institute dedicated to them. The 30 largest chaebol together are set to hire 30,000 non-university high-school graduates this year, an increase of 12% over the past year.

Getting young Koreans—and more importantly, their parents—to overcome the “dropout” stigma and embrace South Korea’s new era of lowered expectations for young people will be difficult. “The idea that we should be telling some people not to bother going to university is, frankly, disgusting”, says one professor of English literature at a Seoul-based university.

Perhaps, depending on one's view of liberal-arts education. But it might be even worse to send students through four extra years of education under the false impression that society will value their efforts as it once did. Over a third of Korea’s unemployed have been to university, as have 30% of the country’s 6m non-regular workers, who earn on average just 1.34m Korean won ($1,170) per month. Banyan

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