[VIEWPOINT]Colleges have specialized roleUniversity is a place to nurture free people. At the stadium generales of Italy’s Bologna and France’s Paris, higher educational bodies of the ancient times taught students the Trivium ― grammar, logic and rhetoric ― and the Quadrivium ― music, mathematics, geometry and astronomy. Based on the two basic courses, the schools focused their education on divinity and laws. Such educational principles are equivalent to Korean education’s focus on literature, history and philosophy.
Higher education’s goal is to train skilled people to support the current system of society, but the real purpose is to cultivate free people with critical minds. Criticism is how intellectuals participate in a society. If we recall the 1970s and 1980s, when the main forces of the current administration were students who were in the center of the criticism against the dictatorship, the role of the university becomes clearer.
Amid the replacement of the deputy prime minister of education, debates have surfaced over the mission and role of universities. The president has ordered the new education chief to resolve youth unemployment; the business community asked the newly appointed top education policymaker to come up with plans to help universities train young people capable of working immediately after graduation.
It is believed that youth unemployment is the schools’ fault because they have failed to educate skilled people needed at companies, but that in fact is not the main reason. Furthermore, it is hard to agree with the demand that universities train skilled manpower en masse.
According to a survey done by the human resources team of the Samsung Group, the company is generally satisfied with universities’ basic education, as well as information and communication skills. In addition to such abilities, companies expect graduates to have organizational adaptive skills and problem-solving abilities.
To meet such expectations, students should have knowledge gained from both academia and experience. To cultivate capable manpower, universities and companies should divide their roles. The universities should provide students with the foundation for developing their ability and adapting themselves to new experiences and knowledge.
Let’s assume that universities produce only egocentric technicians who need re-education after about five years. Then can they possibly make any contribution to this nation and our society?
Universities and the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development have not been completely ignoring the education to retrain such technicians. The ministry has been assisting various programs since last year so graduates can start working immediately.About 40 billion won ($39 million) has been spent at 27 universities to operate pilot programs to provide job retraining. Various vocational training programs, including those for livestock farming, tourism, maritime and design careers, have been established. But universities in principle must focus their education on nurturing free people rather than just skilled technicians. To this end, we need to overcome a complex administrative system, enormous bureaucracy and the commercialism of universities in addition to the functionalistic behavior of university presidents and professors.
Schools should educate students to develop their abilities to analyze and conceptualize their observations; to grasp the overall situation of society accurately; to reduce complex matters concisely; to think reflectively and express their opinions clearly; to make ethical judgments and carry them out; to think critically and provide alternatives; to understand, explain and control new circumstances and forecast future prospects. On the basis of such a strong educational foundation, if the wisdom and skills learned from their social lives are added, these students will grow up to be the talents who will contribute to our society.
The new deputy prime minister for education has economic expertise, and the education community views him with wariness. The home affairs minister has been overhauling the bureaucracy with revolutionary approaches, and the new education chief is responsible for initiating similar changes in the Education Ministry.
Before he tries to reform universities, which have never had the freedom to change themselves, he must reform the Education Ministry that is dominated by stubbornness, a patriarchal way of thinking and authoritarianism. When universities can breathe free air, we will see a different future for this nation.
* The writer is a professor at the Graduate School of Public Administration at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kwang-woong