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[In-depth interview]Visionary educator nurtures trade experts

‘International trade is the only means of survival for Koreans.’

Feb 28,2007
Lee Chung-ki
Lee Chung-ki, the director of the World Trade Academy, attributes the accomplishments of the academy, one of Korea’s most successful vocational training institutions, to current chairman Lee Hee-bum and his predecessor, Kim Jae-chul. The reputation the school enjoys, however, is also due to its director, who has been leading the academy for five years. The JoongAng Daily met the director yesterday and asked what accounts for the school’s success.

Q.The World Trade Academy has achieved outstanding performance in the 12 years since it opened its Trade Masters Course in 1995. Records show that the employment rate for the course’s graduates is almost 100 percent. How was this achieved?
A.Even though the program is not operated by a “conventional school,” the faculty, including myself, is enthusiastic about providing the proper human resources for the Korean international trade industry.
The courses at the World Trade Academy are intense. For example, to successfully finish the Trade Masters Course, 1,800 hours of course study have to be completed. That is 10 hours daily for nine months. The IT Masters Course requires 2,200 hours of course work in 11 months. A normal university year would only have slightly more than 500 hours.
Here at the World Trade Academy, most of the curriculum is focused on international trade and the languages needed to operate in it. The courses consist of international contracts, financing, customs, logistics, insurance and other related fields. How can a person not be ready for work after becoming familiar with these subjects?

What makes the courses different?
We are 100 percent devoted to practical education. All courses offered at our academy are related to international trade; administrative work in trade is the most practical. International marketing and financial strategies are two of the more in-depth subjects taught. Foreign language is a must. One big feature of our courses is that we also teach human relations. This may be slightly outside of what is “practical,” but we think it is also an important part of business or international trade. Some courses are for people who want to specialize in foreign exchange. We even have an e-business master’s degree program [in conjunction] with Carnegie-Mellon University in the United States. We do more than offer classes to job seekers; we have classes for students, from elementary to university, and for higher-level executives.
In recent years we have invited high-level government officials for training, and foreign governments have sent people to study at the academy as well. We are looking forward to having more foreigners. The academy welcomes foreigners, but most of the courses are taught in Korean.

What are the employment rates of your graduates?
We can say 100 percent, although a few do not seek employment.
This only applies to the two masters courses; other courses are not intended for employment. I am quite sure, though, that most of those who participated in the courses we offer have benefited from them.

What is the drop-out rate?
For the masters course since 2004, 443 out of 530 students who enrolled in the program finished their course successfully. That’s 83.6 percent of students who registered. Most of the dropouts give up within the first three months of the nine-month program. Students who finish the first five months are most likely to complete the full course. The IT Masters Course has a similar completion rate of 84.6 percent. Since 2004, 417 [out of 493] students have completed the course.

How about the quality of their employment? What percentage of graduates remain employed in the first workplace for more than six months?
The number of our graduates quitting their first job within six months is too minimal to track.
Most Trade Masters Course graduates receive wages higher than two million won a month, or 24 million won annually. Meanwhile, since most of the IT Masters Course graduates pursue careers in Japan, they tend to have higher salaries ― more than 3 million won a month ― than those who complete the regular Trade Masters Course.
Trade Masters usually find employment at Korean companies including E-land, Korea United Pharma, Young Chang Co. and others. The companies that hire our graduates are mostly small or medium-sized enterprises ― usually leaders in their fields. IT Masters Course finishers go to well-known Japanese system integration firms: Mitsubishi Electronic Information Network, Alpha Net Co. and more. Nine out of 10 find employment abroad, mostly in Japan.

How many teachers did your school hire recently?
Our teaching faculty comes from a pool that we maintain, so the word “hire” may not be applicable to them. Whenever we plan a new course, we contact the instructors in the pool and choose among the best possible teachers. So technically, we did not hire new teachers, but we registered new instructors in our pool. Some of the newly registered will start their classes as early as March. Most of the instructors are former executives of banks, trade companies and other firms related to international trade. Some are currently working in their fields when they come to the academy and teach.

Please give a brief history of trade education at the Korea International Trade Association.
Actually, the academy has a history of more than 40 years. It started as the Export School in 1965 and has trained at least 400,000 trade experts. Recently the academy had an annual enrollment of about 15,000 students, or trainees. Although we are proud of the masters courses, they are only a part of the programs we offer. The Masters Courses are for those seeking employment, and others are for those in need of additional training while working. More than 2,000 students have finished the Trade Masters Course since 1995 when the course was first offered. The IT Masters Course started in 2001, with the number of graduates reaching 1,000.

What message do you have for those interested in international trade?
International trade is the only means of survival for Koreans. China and Japan are becoming the superpowers of the world as the center of the world moves to Asia. One slight mistake will put Korea back into the situation it faced in the late 19th century. The World Trade Academy is working hard to prepare future leaders in international trade. I hope our younger generation develops a broader view of the world and become pioneers in the world market.


By Hwang Young-jin Staff Writer[yhwang@joongang.co.kr]


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