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Gov’t to fund college revamp

Aug 01,2015
Beginning next year, the government will fund the restructuring of academic departments at universities across the nation, the Ministry of Education confirmed Monday.

The reforms are intended to address the disparity between the skills students cultivate at college and the skills necessary to gain employment ? a problem illustrated by the high unemployment rate amid labor shortages at major companies, the ministry said.

According to the new plan, the government will provide universities with forecasts on the direction of the labor market and the skills necessary for students to find jobs within it. Universities that take steps to address the changes, such as merging academic departments or introducing new majors and classes, can receive up to 30 billion won ($26 million) each.

To help students better predict which courses of study will provide them with jobs, the Korea Employment Information Service will break down the six areas of study, traditionally measured in its medium to long-term employment outlook forecast, into 35 more specific majors, starting in the second half of the year.

The government’s restructuring project has been named the “program for industry needs matched education,” or Prime, and the education ministry has asked the Ministry of Strategy and Finance for 350 billion won to fund it.

The money will go towards recruiting professors, constructing new buildings and acquiring the materials and equipment necessary to create the new or reconfigured majors.

If the full budget is approved, up to 70 universities will be able to get financial support for the project. The Ministry of Education plans to select the so-called Prime universities by Feb. 2016.

“There is great opposition to merging majors of study within universities, so the institutions themselves don’t have much power [to restructure]. The funds from the government will help [make that restructuring possible],” said Yu Jeong-gi of the Regional University Development Division within the Ministry of Education.

Bae Young-chan, a professor at the Department of Chemical Engineering at Hanyang University in eastern Seoul, was cautious about the plans.

“The Ministry of Education’s plans can only succeed if the employment outlook forecast is accurate,” Professor Bae said. “Prior to this plan, there have been cases of establishing new departments of study only for the changes to not correspond well with [the needs in] reality and fizzle out to nothing, and without looking deeply into [present structures at] universities and making moves just to get money for a budget, it will be hard to effectively address the issue of the labor force mismatch.”

Some academics also argue that structural changes at universities should happen naturally, without government intervention.

“Universities already naturally restructure less competitive majors that attract fewer students,” said a director of planning at one private university in Seoul. “The [government’s intervention] could actually make it more difficult for universities to restructure departments themselves,”

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


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