Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

All about the Money? Korean University Leader Challenges Graduate Goals

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

All about the Money? Korean University Leader Challenges Graduate Goals

Article excerpt

Yeon-Cheon Oh says serving society can be as rewarding as getting rich. Chris Havergal writes

South Korea's higher education participation rate is one of the highest in the world, driven by the promise that studying at university will bring increased wealth and status.

But what happens when the growth in the number of graduates outstrips the expansion of the job market? With 69 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds in the country having been to university, and technological change making career paths even more unpredictable, one university president has argued that students and parents need to "reset" their expectations of the impact that getting a degree can have.

Yeon-Cheon Oh, president of the University of Ulsan, told Times Higher Education that while many families' definitions of success revolved around "more money, Wall Street and London's financial market", only a "small number" of graduates could attain such goals. Relying on such a narrow conception of success was "not possible" in the 21st century because many graduate jobs were becoming automated, according to Professor Oh, who warned that thinking in such a way would lead only to "frustration".

"Parents' and students' minds should be reset - their expectations and their way of thinking for the future," Professor Oh said. "Society's supply capacity is diminishing while demand for the future from the students' and parents' side is the same as before. There must be some disparity."

The frustration felt by young South Koreans if they fall short of their goals can only be heightened by the intense struggles they go through to win places at the country's top universities, which are so well known that they were the subject last year of a feature film, Reach for the Sky.

Professor Oh, who served as president of Seoul National University from 2010 to 2014, argued that South Korea would have a "healthier" society if its "basic value system" was expanded to recognise good citizenship, self-autonomy and self-reliance as things that were worth graduates aiming for, as well as financial success.

"Good students with ambition [could] join an elementary school as teachers; why [don't] they...go there?" Professor Oh asked. "Medical doctors who graduate from Seoul National University, they can work for local villages, for communities. …

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