In June 2015, Ministry of Education announced a government subsidy program called PRIME. Acronym for “Program for Industrial needs-Matched Education.”
The rationale behind this project is the labor supply-demand mismatch projected for the next decade. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Employment and Labor, by 2024 there will be a shortage of engineering and medicine majors and an oversupply of humanities and social studies majors. The Ministry of Education then announced that PRIME will help solve this labor gap.
Officials claim that PRIME will revitalize Korea’s economy by reducing the labor supply-demand gap. However, it is imperative that we consider potential backlashes of a project of such massive scale.
One probable side-effect of PRIME is the weakening of the so-called “less job-oriented” majors. The worst victims of PRIME are university students who suddenly find their major no longer existing. This was precisely the reason behind why students of Busan Arts College held street protests and performances criticizing PRIME during the Chinese New Year holidays.
To ameliorate the concern mentioned above, the Ministry of Education has introduced a sister project to complement PRIME: the CORE. Acronym for Initiative for COllege of humanities’ Research and Education, this initiative is purported to revitalize and strengthen the humanities departments.
However in reality, CORE is no more than an extension of the government’s attempt to make majors more industry-friendly. Universities are also encouraged to educate its students into local specialists who have a greater chance of being employed. It is true that 60 billion won of budget has been set aside under CORE to protect humanities majors. Yet, is CORE an antidote to PRIME? Or is it simply its reinforcement?
On a more fundamental level, this issue is also a matter of choice. National and public universities’ general student council members held joint conferences to voice their opinions against PRIME. Claiming PRIME is an infringement on liberty, council members highlighted how universities in Korea have changed from academic institutes to employment facilities.
In high school, most Korean students receive intensive education geared solely towards university entrance. If even in universities the sole goal of studying is to succeed in the job market, when do these students get to study for the sake of academic endeavor?
The Korean word for university, “Daehak,” can be directly translated into “Large or high learning.” As the translation underlines, the quintessential value of a university education rests in academic pursuit. A university should not be a place where individuals are molded into perfect workers. Rather, it should be a place where academic interest and career development are equally valued.
Realistically speaking, it is impossible to ignore the link between university and employment. Thus, alternative options can be suggested. Respecting students’ freedom to choose their own majors, universities can simplify the procedures necessary for double-majors, integrated majors and major transfers. This way, students will be able to choose the best career options for themselves while pursuing academic interest. Another option would be offering more career-related courses or seminars within universities so that students have information sources to aid their job search. Also, not only should students adjust themselves to meet companies’ needs but companies should also compromise and consider opening positions that enables graduates to achieve their full potential.
Only through bilateral compromise will universities, the government and industries be able to find a point of equilibrium.
Cho Mina firstname.lastname@example.org
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