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Trade schools get boost to become more specialized

June 22,2013
The Ministry of Education announced a new policy proposal aimed at fostering more specialized colleges by designating 70 trade schools nationwide to overhaul their curriculum starting from next year. The plan will later be extended to 100 colleges by 2017.

“We will promote more specialized colleges because the focus of ‘creative economy’ is to nurture specialists in different areas,” said Na Seung-il, vice minister of education.

The term “creative economy,” President Park Geun-hye’s core vision, calls for more business opportunities in the science and IT sectors.

“The new policy proposal will prompt many schools to offer hands-on training sessions and we hope that the change will increase the employment rate to 80 percent from the current 60 percent,” said the vice minister during the press conference held at Dongyang Mirae University in southwestern Seoul. The institution is a two-year college specializing in engineering.

The designated institutions should follow National Competency Standards - a set of standards that gauge workers’ competence in 800 occupations.

The Education Ministry will require those schools to choose a specific field among four major areas - humanities and social sciences, engineering, natural science and the arts. But it added that colleges can tentatively choose two fields depending on their circumstances.

“We’ll encourage schools to focus on one field in the long run, but for the time being, they are allowed to choose two,” said Lee Seung, automobile engineering professor at Daelim University who participated in drafting the education initiative.

Almost all vocational colleges have study periods of two-three years, but the education ministry will allow the schools to adopt one- to four-year degree plans. Of all the courses provided by the training colleges, 76.2 percent are taught for two years while 27.4 percent are taught for three years. Four-year curriculums account for only 0.8 percent.

The plan reflects a shift in focus from increasing the number of training colleges into differentiating them from one another.

“There have been different policies meant to promote the colleges that offer practical skills and techniques for different jobs,” said an official from the Education Ministry.

“But they end up providing similar programs with each other. Now, we intend to make them more specialized,” the official said.

But some express concerns that the new policy will put some regional four-year universities at a disadvantage when well-known, job-oriented schools provide four-year courses.

In response to the concerns, the government said it will apply strict standards and screening process when reviewing permission for the implementation of a four-year curriculum.

“We’ll order schools to examine the necessity of the extended courses to make sure that an extra year is necessary,” said the Education Ministry official.

“The institutions have to receive the official approval from the Ministry of Education as well,” the official added.

Some colleges welcomed the move.

“The proposal that the government has suggested embodies the vision to create a merit-based society,” said Lee Seung-geun, a PR director of Korean Council for University College Education, which represents Korea’s vocational colleges.

Yoon Yeo-song, civil engineering professor of Induk University and the president of Korea Higher Vocational Education Association, echoed the support.

“The former administrations tended to pull resources and investment into four-year institutions and many education policies only serve their interests,” Yoon said.

BY SUNG SI-YOON [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]




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