[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]Let foreign schools in

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[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]Let foreign schools in

Korea has the greatest education deficit in the OECD, with Koreans spending $3.5 billion more on overseas education in 2001 than foreign students spent in Korea. In 2003 and 2004, Koreans spent $4.7 and $5.2 billion on overseas education, respectively. It is clear that the supply of education available to Koreans domestically is failing to meet the demand, and so considerable wealth is being transferred from Korean families to foreign countries.
At the same time, it has been the stated policy of government after government in Korea to encourage families to reduce their spending on extracurricular classes here, and on foreign education in general. It has long been seen as a social problem in this country that 8 to 15 percent of average household spending goes to education, with many families paying much more. These are logical results of two other real problems: Korea’s powerful unions, and Korea’s protectionist foreign direct investment policies.
The Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union and its militant parent, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, both strongly advocate restricted teaching hours and abolition of extra-hours classes, and both strongly oppose the Act on Establishment of Foreign Education Institutions, which would let foreign schools operate domestically. Korea’s teachers earn 2.5 times per-capita GDP, by far the highest in the OECD. Is their pay so high due to a shortage of teachers?
No, Korea actually has far more qualified teachers available than there are jobs available to put them in. Imagine that your family is the only one in town that knows how to make shoes. Of course you will be able to charge almost any price you want, and you won’t mind if many people go barefoot, since you don’t want to work the long hours needed to make enough shoes for everyone. This will lead to the creation of a black market in both domestic and imported shoes, in which prices will be astronomical. The government, horrified that people are spending so much on illegal shoes, will ban all imports in an attempt to kill the black market, and reach an agreement with you to regulate domestic supply.
Your family agrees to supply everyone in town with one pair of shoes per year, and while the government knows that this supply is still far short of demand, it agrees with you, not wanting to make the only shoemaker angry. You also get the government to agree that no one else will be allowed to make shoes; then, over time, you lobby for higher and higher prices and to supply fewer and fewer shoes. It’s a pretty good deal for you, isn’t it? No need to worry about variety, style or quality, either.
This is the situation Korea now finds itself in. People have had no choice but to go overseas to find the educational products they need. How much more do they need? The market has the answer: about $5 billion worth last year. How can Korea change this? By allowing foreign schools in.
Lee Man-hee published a survey for UNESCO in which he found that only 21% of Koreans oppose the establishment of foreign schools in Korea. The problem is that 52% oppose the expatriation of profits from these schools, which, of course, would have to be allowed to attract these schools. Korea should allow foreign schools to operate locally, and to expatriate profits anyway.
Korea needs to think win-win. Right now the winners are several thousand Korean teachers and the general economies of those countries hosting thousands of Korean overseas students; the losers are the Korean people. If we allow foreign schools in, they will take a slice of profit probably in the tens of millions of dollars, but the overall economic gains for Korea’s population will amount to hundreds of millions, if not billions.


by Brendan Hillson
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