[Campus Commentary]Jobs scramble blights academic culture

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[Campus Commentary]Jobs scramble blights academic culture

What we call an academic culture on campus is changing. Students are more enthusiastic about reading and debating. It looks like it’s changed in a positive way. But look a little closer and there are some ludicrous aspects. What is this all about?
College students are really studying hard these days. They are, however, studying not to accumulate profound knowledge, but to get a job as quickly as possible. This has almost become the new campus culture. This brings up an important question: Do we really understand the reason for studying in a university? It seems that there has been a shift in the purpose of study itself.
When I ask other students about their future goals, most of them say that they want to get jobs at certain big-name companies. That is all they can think about after more than a decade of school before college. What a sorry goal! What happened to all that potential we are so proud of nurturing? We are letting social norms pull down our capabilities. Our vision has become too narrow.
Since the Asian financial crisis, the unemployment rate in Korea has skyrocketed. Back then uncounted numbers of workers were kicked out from their companies and factories. There were no jobs available. This was one of the major contributing factors to today’s cultural change on campuses.
By the time I entered college, the atmosphere on campus had turned hostile, with everyone focused on getting better grades. The old Korean campus culture was that you enjoy campus life as much as you can while you are a student. But no one believed in that anymore. Some postponed their graduation to take advantage of their student status to prepare for Toeic or Toefl exams and job interviews.
Since finding a job became a burdensome process in our senior years, students started the process earlier, and schools supported that trend. For example, lectures were offered in job-hunting skills, including dressing right and wearing the right make-up at job interviews.
They teach students how to speak, how to smile, how to answer interview questions. What on earth is this?
This fanatical pursuit of careers has given rise to many companies and experts in Korea guiding students and teaching them practical skills to get a job. They advise students to equip themselves with a “career package.”
This is what a “career package” consists of: a GPA no lower than 3.5; English skills, rated by standardized test scores of 900 or above in Toeic, or 100 or more in Toefl; fluency in English language study or exchange study abroad, or better yet, an international internship; plus a record of extracurricular activities in school. Students use this as a career formula.
Universities are not mere factories for salaried workers. They are where we form our personalities, develop insights and work to build our future. That is why we need to be serious when we think about the purpose of studying at a university.
Preparing for our future is very important. However, that preparation is quite different from what students usually do now. Custom-designed talent is not what we need for our future. It’s the forest, not the trees.

*The writer is editor-in-chief of The Chung-Ang Herald, a newspaper at Chung-Ang University.

by Choi Yun-jun
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