[FORUM]Opening services brings questionsA few weeks ago I wrote my thoughts about education, medical care and the opening of the Korean legal market, and then promised to add more thoughts later. That "later" has arrived. But let me first briefly mention the things that I talked about the last time.
I said that whoever becomes the next president of Korea, if that person does a decent job in the areas of education, medical care and the legal service market, he is destined for greatness as a president. Coincidently, there are international negotiations going on that deal with the opening of the whole service industry. The negotiations are supposed to last until the second year of the new government, while the actual opening of the industries should start in the third year of the new government. If a presidential candidate does not grasp the importance of these ongoing talks, he or she should not run for president.
Sarcastic comments such as "Why can't we open our politics as well?" once made the rounds. The logic goes: Nobody sees hope for politics; other sectors improved after Korea opened itself to foreign competition; however, politics is one sector that can't be open. This simple logic might have provided grounds for the self-mockery.
Nevertheless, even the once supposedly doomed education and medical care industries are finally opening, and, finally, the legal service market, one place that was viewed as the last bastion, has yielded as well.
There are several scenarios that could take place in the sectors that await opening.
A well-known foreign college could join with a conglomerate or a domestic college to open a branch. I guess to open a regular college is too much of a burden in terms of financial resources and human resources. An alternative then is to open a language course or an MBA course. For now, even if a foreign college enters Korea it cannot take any profits to its home country. Yet if that were possible, I can imagine that there would be quite a number of foreign colleges interested in the Korean market. Where else can one find a potential market with such a high demand for higher education?
Medical care seems more complicated. I don't think that we should agree to accept a physician's license granted by some unknown medical school in Patagonia. In addition, even a doctor having outstanding credentials from a developed country will have problems understanding the fine differences within the Korean language.
But it seems that the medical sector must go through an internal struggle before it deals with becoming an open market. A lawsuit is pending against the current system, which blocks people from paying medical bills with their own money instead of with medical insurance to receive faster and better treatment. The suit claims this method is in violation of the constitution.
If the judgment finds the current regulation is against the constitution, then the domestic market will be opened internally first to private insurance companies, which could eventually lead to the introduction of foreign medical institutions.
A partner in a law firm once said of the opening of the legal service market, "If foreign companies come into this market, the whole culture of filing a lawsuit will change." According to the person who said this, the number of lawsuits will increase in large degrees since everyone wants to solve problems through lawsuits.
Needless to say there are additional problems and matters that one has to think about when talking about the upcoming opening of the educational, medical care and legal service market.
In terms of education, one wrong step could lead to an imbalance in the demand and supply situation, spurring increased unemployment of highly educated people. Domestic institutions might make people more disappointed and decide to go abroad to study, finding that there is no actual improvement in the quality of education if they stay here.
What is important is to go ahead with the opening process of education if it leads to an improvement of the current situation. That end might yield an internal or an external opening. If the new government wants to form a social balance it should avoid battling against vested forces, and instead use the opening of certain markets to its advantage.
The writer is a senior economic writer of the Joongang Ilbo.
by Kim Su-gil