A student is on the path of deciding whether learning should be based on legitimate "learning," or employment
/Illustrated by Kim Ji-min
“What is a contract department? Is there a department entirely for a certain company at university?” Recently, several universities have established a so-called “contract department” that guarantees 100 percent rate of employment for students after graduation. In this department, the curiculum is made to foster students according to the company’s taste. Some departments that are not favorable by employment market have been merged with other departments or abolished entirely. Also, some existing departments are converging with software majors that are advantageous for employment. As such, universities are becoming more focused on employment, and some people have criticized this new development.
The meaning of university is changning these days
The origin of the university was an educational institution. It was an educational union among a group of students who followed many knowledgeable professors. These universities continued from the Middle Ages, establishing its identity as a “Research university.” With the spread of the modern university identity to the United States, it has become a research hub like Johns Hopkins University. Cho Sang-sik, the Professor of the Department of Education, said “Given this tradition, universities have the essence of being a theory-based research institute to generate knowledge.” He added, “Under the institutional conditions of universities, the freedom of teaching, autonomy of operation and research should be guaranteed.”
Nowadays, the changing nature of university means that employment has become more important than its role as an educational institution. Recently, there have been a growing number of universities shifting their focus to student employment. Some universities have created contract departments that guarantee employment and favor departments that are advantageous to employment. Professor Cho said, “However, the current university has become a ‘high-quality labor supplier’ who succumbed under capital and corporate control. It was from the end of the 20th century when universities were transferred to the labor market.”
According to the Professor Cho, “Now things have changed, even with companies intervening directly about the college curriculum itself.” He added, “As time goes by, companies’ influence on university grows up gradually as never before. This flow began to be introduced in the middle of 1990s. Therefore, when a company asked a university to produce an ‘immediately usable workforce,’ the university responded without any resistance.” As a result, all programs and expenses for corporate education were transferred to universities. Currently, organizations alike human resources development institutes, such as Employment Centers and Capacity Development Centers installed in almost every university prove this well.
Graduates’ employment rate determines university competitiveness
Thesedays, the competitiveness of a university is depends on the employment rate of graduates. How did this situation originate? There have been an abundance of stories in the news stating, “The unemployment rate of the youth has hit the bottom. It is the worst unemployment rate since 1999, which is right after the foreign-exchange crisis of South Korea.” As the situation continues, employment has become one of the most significant concerns for the youth. For universities, it has become important to set up a mechanism that could help students to secure employment.
Also, getting a job is not only a matter of the youth. In our society, as the influence of science is increasing dramatically, the workforce for the natural sciences and engineering field is much needed. However, in the case of Korea, the brain drain, which is a phenomenon of educated or professional people moving from one country to another usually for better pay or living conditions, in this field is quite huge. Furthermore, as a lot of students find the natural sciences and engineering field difficult, the demand for it is still low. To resolve such matters, the government took action to foster interest in the natural science and engineering field.
As part of the action, the government is financially sponsoring a selection of programs. Examples of these financial aids are the Program for Industrial needs-Matched Edcation(Prime Project) and Software (SW) Centered Universities Project. The Prime Project aims to reduce the number of students majoring in liberal arts and fine art and expand that of students for the natural sciences and engineering field.
The government needs to come up with a certain standard, of which financially aiding universities. When evaluating which university to support and subsidize, the government considers several sectors for reference. The employment rate of each university is one of the criteria for the government to make an evaluation. The SW Centered Universities Project is another project led by the government. Its goal is to expand software related majors or establish a college for those and even provide a greater number of experienced professors.
Moreover, the government is selecting more and more universities to promote the SW Centered Universities Project as time passes by. As a result, for universities to be competitive and secure financial support from the government, they have to focus on improving the graduate employment rate.
People interested in Utopian University which is an alternative school, are listening to the speaker. The presentation of Utopian University was held..
/Photography from Utopian University
In Korea, universities are focusing on raising the employment rate of students
The number of contract departments is increasing consistently nowadays. This indicates the strengthening relationship between companies and universities since the department is operated under a contract with a company. In Korea University, SK Hynix is going to establish a new semi-conductor department that guarantees employment. It is scheduled to admit freshman from 2021. This has already happened in many universities such as the Natural Sciences Campus of Sungkyunkwan University, Yonsei University, and Chung-ang University. Ties with companies and universities are showing that they prioritize the employment rate, one of the competitive factors of universities, and making the new curriculum of a major for the company rather than supporting an existing major. This situation is loosening the boundaries of whether the university is a place of learning pure education or a place of training for social development.
Byeon Ye-young (Junior, Divison of International Studies) of Hanyang University, referred, “There are some rumors between students in Hanyang University.” She added, “One of the rumors is that companies are recruiting students who major in engineering and whose grade exceeds GPA. I feel upset that the standard is way lower than that of other majors.” She also commented, “It seems like companies tie with universities are giving unfair chances to students whose major correspond to companies’ preference such as engineering.”
Many departments of universities in Korea have been abolished or converged
Many universities are abolishing departments belonging to the liberal arts to create what they call a “job-friendly department.” Seoul Women’s University once announced that they would push to eliminate the bottom 15 percent of the departments depending on result of employment evaluations until 2019. Result of employment evaluation standards were made from the 2019 undergraduate department development plan and 2016-2018 performance report. It proves that they were focusing on the employment rather than respecting the currently existing studies since these are different from the education that a company requires. When the abolition of department was announced, there was no discussion with the students, so it led to a bigger-scale demonstration. Now, the university is holding back its system. In addition, controversy persists in that students had not been informed about it before. If the system goes ahead, students whose departments have been abolished may lose their sense of belonging to the school.
Meanwhile, the phenomenon of department integration often occurs these days. The Korean history department of Dongduk Women’s University was merged into a major in Korean culture, but it was completely suspended in a week after students staged a sit-in at the Main Building. Dongguk University was no exception. In 2015, there was a controversy over the integration of sociology and Buddhist Social Welfare departments. The department integrations were constantly mentioned. Also, the aforementioned Prime Project across the universities has greatly changed the fixed number in departments. Actually, in 2016, which is the first year of the Prime Project, 2626 students in the Liberal Arts, 1,479 in the Natural Sciences, and 819 in the Arts decreased. However, there was an increase of 4,429 students in fixed number of engineering-related departments.
SW Centered Universities Project is supporting students’ employment
The SW Centered Universities Project is also one of the factors that determine the government’s ranking in evaluating universities, so most schools are striving to improve in this area. After all, the goal of the government’s SW Centered Universities Project is to increase the employment rate, and it is one of the projects intended to benefit future generations. Software convergence majors aim to foster convergence education courses for IT vision engineers and convergent talent that can solve the problems demanded by industry in modern society. Universities emphasize convergence with SW majors and other existing majors. Furthermore, they encourage connected majors and convergence majors with SW as they try to be selected for the government’s projects.
Dongguk University has established a new SW Convergence Education Center (SWCEC) to provide software-related education and research for its students. This means that all students must take lectures on SW basic education, even if it is not related to their majors. It has also greatly expanded its SW convergence education program and increased the fixed number of students in existing SW-related departments from 125 to 220. As a result, seven SW convergence majors (culture and art, criminal investigation, life information, convergence information, etc.) are present in Dongguk University. The university is strongly supporting this major system. Unlike other courses, SW converged majors are easy to access because the school select up the student to twice as many people as they already have in each existing department. It shows that almost every student, who wants to join this converged major, could join it easily. Also, SW major could be all multiple, linked, and minor majors. This shows the university’s emphasis on the SW Centered Universities Project.
Hyun Ki-sung (Junior, Media Communication), said, “It is an efficient choice for social trends. The current status of the job market is better for science and engineering fields. It is appropriate and positive because schools support students to have a job.”
There are people who oppose to the current trend
Regarding universities’ demand for bigger natural sciences and engineering field, Professor Cho criticized, “Currently, in the midst of taking responsibility to fulfill ‘employment rate,’ universities are supporting the natural sciences and engineering field extensively. It is understandable that this action is led by local authorities or the government trying to reduce the mismatch of the labor market. However, this solution works only for a short run. The social and liberal arts field, so-called, ‘non-natural sciences and engineering field’ needs support in a long run, too. Also, companies these days agree the idea that humanities is the source of corporate’s value and creative ideas. However, their hunger for humanities seems a ‘self-contradiction.’"
Unlike the current trend, Seoul National University (SNU) is trying to preserve the original meaning of university. SNU was also in the process of having a “contract department” with semi-conductor industries. However, there was a criticism that university is not a vocational school and the contract department was abandoned.
In addition, there is a group of students who are against the idea that “university equals vocational institution.” To make university more like a traditional university, a group, “Youth Discourse” and several university students established Utopian University, an alternative school. Kim Chang-in, the President of the Utopian University explained, “Utopian University is a school developed under the goal of making our own universities. There is a limit within the universities. Hence, there is a need for an effort outside the universities to resolve problems.” Regarding the current universities, the President Kim pointed out that the current problems stem out from the value and the meaning of university. Kim commented, “University is an institution to teach and learn the academic values. However, in the actual world, such things are not learned or taught. A lot of students do not satisfy with universities. Even some of them feel skepticism. In order to resolve such feelings, students themselves become the planning committee, set the learning goals and recruit professors.”
Reflecting the society, a lot of things changed. Even the meaning of university has been modified. Everybody enters university for different reasons. One of them could be to get a job, as a lot of universities already encourage to do so. However, it is crucial for university not to lose their primary meaning as educational institutions.
Regarding the value of universities, Professor Cho commented, “If universities continue restructuring departments based on short-term situation, it is more likely to fail in the long run. Main points that need to be considered for department structure reform are the solidity structure that can stay for long-term and flexible organization that can react to rapidly changing circumstance. It would not be easy to predict the future social plan, but such trend would be too hazardous in the long run. It is important to find a middle path between vocational school and an educational institution.”
Kim Ji-min, Cho Moon-kyung firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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