[OUTLOOK]Do not fail on education marketThe government has decided to submit to the World Trade Organization a proposal to open the markets for adult education and higher education. Though some may call the proposal an offer to throw away our education sovereignty, they should not label the education minister as a traitor.
A closed education market does not seem to reduce the number of students studying abroad or curtail emigration by families seeking to give their children a foreign education. The collapse of public education under the current situation will continue regardless of opening the education market. Frankly speaking, few highly-regarded foreign colleges will enter our country. If the government allows them to invest only in areas other than Seoul, they will be even more reluctant to do so.
Fees of famous foreign colleges are much higher than those of domestic colleges. Renowned foreign colleges requiring higher fees lost interest in the Korean market a long time ago. Some universities are still waiting to introduce their MBA courses in Korea, but their passion is waning. Domestic companies are interested in such programs, but it is unlikely overseas institutions will stubbornly tread the thorny path of Korea when remote education is available.
To say that opening the nation’s education market will lead to the collapse of colleges in provincial areas is an illogical conclusion. Japan’s experience in this area disproves these assertions. About 20 foreign colleges have opened operations in Japan with branch schools, but the result has not been encouraging. I have not heard that they are very profitable or that they have destroyed Japan’s education sovereignty. The branch schools have disappeared one by one, without being noticed.
Nobody should underestimate the level of Korean educational institutions. But if any education market is displaced by an opening to foreign schools it would be private education. So some people are worried about the vulnerability to foreign language education or study material markets. It is a ridiculous concern. Private education is much more competitive and swifter at adapting to new circumstances. Public education should take lessons from the private sector, which knows how to survive and how to restructure. Korea’s foreign language education services have been prepared to open the market since the Uruguay Round of global trade talks. They survived by undergoing painful restructuring without government aid. They are enhancing their strength by developing programs that are competitive with other programs in world markets. Makers of study materials have a lead in the world market, and they can sell their know-how to foreign firms.
Opening Korea’s education market provides a chance for our educational techniques to go global. To sell state-of-the-art products in the world market, we have to succeed in standardization ahead of others. If we fall behind in standardization, it will be impossible to make inroads into the world market. Our teachers, our education administration and our education programs are weak in terms of meeting world standards. From now on, the government should develop standardized education programs comparable to the best on the world market. The education problems we confront are totally unrelated to the education services market opening.
We need to treat problems in public education with a special diagnosis and prescription, which is not the same thing as market opening. Though some of the gloomy realities we face could be heard as voices of hope in other countries, there are several superior features of our education system that foreign countries might want to incorporate in their programs.
Our government demanded reciprocity from 11 countries, including China and Japan, two years ago as it made promises to open the education market. The demand will be construed as a well-calculated, ambitious policy decision that took into consideration the opportunity to make inroads into other nations’ education industries. Ten countries, including the United States, New Zealand and Australia, asked Korea to open a range of areas, such as Oriental medicine, education testing services and education information services. We also have to ask them to open something for us after closely calculating the benefits. If the government does not have plans to maximize the gains we derive from lowering the nation’s barriers, it will bear the brunt of the criticism.
We should proceed to open education services to foreign participation not because we are forced to by trading partners, not because the sovereign credit rating of Korea would plunge if we reverse the decision to do so, nor because it would enhance our education competitiveness. The government should draw up plans to maximize the benefits like other countries have done, not just look for ways to come up with measures to minimize the negative effects in the aftermath of the opening of the nation’s education market.
* The writer is a professor of education at Yonsei University.
by Han Zun-sang