[ROSTRUM]Look beyond the school's imageRecently in our society, there have been calls for putting more emphasis on a college graduate's actual skills than on the brand name of the university on a graduate's diploma.
In our society, academic cliquism is almost like a deep-seated disease, so suggestions have been made that companies should omit the section of an employment application form where an applicant enters the name of the school from which he graduated.
Well, not writing down a school name does not mean the school disappears; nor does the awe we have of "famous brands." Cliquism might be reduced somewhat, but changing application forms would not solve the problem.
As far as I know, Korea is the only place in the world where such suggestions have emerged. One's school should be a place to talk about proudly, not a part of one's personal history to hide, even though it is equally true that a person should not be judged by the name of his alma mater.
In order to change our deep-seated bias toward a school's name, we must reach a consensus that acknowledges the importance of one's true competence. For instance, Chung Ju-yung, the founder of the Hyundai Group, was educated only through the eighth grade but still became the head of one of Korea's biggest companies and was a cornerstone of the Korean economy. Konosuke Matsushita founded Matsushita Electric Group and made National/Panasonic into a world-renowned brand. His academic life was even shorter than Mr. Chung's; he did not even graduate from elementary school. Of course, these men are extraordinary cases and it would be unfair to conclude that education simply does not matter at all.
The move to put more importance on actual competence than on educational background is in line with other changes in our society. During the Asian economic crisis, Korean society underwent some dramatic changes. The security of lifetime employment was proven an illusion; many thousands of people were handed a pink slip.
Now the focus of society has changed. Companies are increasingly looking for people who have in-depth knowledge and are specialists in a specific area. In one word, professionals are in demand.
As an educator, I believe that schools have to provide individuals with an education that makes a person an expert. The overall consensus of corporate personnel managers is that fresh college graduates generally lack the skills needed to be productive right away. Due to this shortcoming, companies have to train their new staff, which takes time and money, something that companies are always short of and less and less willing to provide.
That is why companies now prefer to hire experienced workers who can be used in their field instantly. In other words, companies lose the opportunity to select fresh personnel who might be brimming with creative ideas. In order to provide companies the type of employees they are looking for, educational institutions need to groom graduates who can be put to work the moment they enter a firm. Companies that hire these people must give these professionals opportunities to use their skills in a creative way.
That is easier said than done, but there are some signs of real change.
Recently, Hongik University hired a person who had only a diploma from an elementary school as a professor of metal design in its graduate school. The professor started to lecture to students in the spring semester, and is only in his 40s. Nevertheless, Professor Byun Tae-hyung is the holder of a "Midas" certificate, which is given only to a person who possesses the highest skill level in a specific field. In metalworking, he is the very best.
What we need these days are people who are creative but at the same time have a full store of professional knowledge. By grooming this type of person we will be able to cure our society's problems of academic cliquishness and provide a bright future for young people who are going to take an active part in our modern society.
In a society in which professionals are groomed, people naturally select areas for which they are best suited. Companies are as satisfied as their workers, and where there is satisfaction there is also enhanced productivity.
The writer is president of Hongik University.
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