[Viewpoint]Crisis is chance to reform universities

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[Viewpoint]Crisis is chance to reform universities

The idea of job-sharing, which is aimed at maintaining present levels of employment or increasing job openings by reducing wages, allowing the pain of the current economic crisis to be shared, is spreading widely in our society.

After the painful experience of laying off large numbers of people as we suffered through the 1997?98 Asian financial crisis, job-sharing seems to be a desirable idea, considering the positive aspect of increasing job opportunities.

However, we must keep in mind that job-sharing is a short-term measure and will not work toward overcoming the economic recession if it does not increase employment but results in wage cuts and a payment imbalance between new employees and existing staff. In solving such problems and creating an economic growth engine that will lead our economy after the current crisis, I think the role of universities is more important than anything else.

Universities can contribute to overcoming the crisis in two ways. One is by enhancing the competitiveness of human resources by retraining workers for a certain period of time instead of laying them off. The other is by giving creative education to a younger generation who will lead Korea in the future.

First of all, it is important, as a means of sharing the pain from the economic slump, to reestablish cooperation among industry, universities and the government for the education of talented people. Universities absorb people who are on the verge of losing their jobs due to restructuring and train them to adapt to new technologies. If universities, industries and the government cooperate closely, I think it can be done. The expenses for training talented people at small and medium businesses will be borne by the central as well as local governments, and universities will operate the education programs.

To the central and local governments, the expenses for education could be seen as investments. If workers are born again as highly-paid wage earners after acquiring knowledge and technology that will develop new industries, it will not only increase national income and revenue, but also provide a chance to lift the quality of people’s lives.

In that respect, it is instructive that the United States allocated $100 billion out of its $787-billion economic recovery stimulus fund to education. For big businesses, too, it is necessary to provide one- or two-year training programs instead of reducing the workforce. At big businesses, the spending on human resources training will have the effect of developing new markets, improving productivity and building a foundation for technological innovation.

In a longer-term perspective, however, university education should not stop at providing simple knowledge but should shift into creative education.

In the past 10 years, our universities neglected the education of undergraduate students because almost all universities in Korea were operated as research-centered universities. Now, universities must improve the quality of education and meet the needs of students. This is no less important than research achievements. According to a survey conducted by a student counseling organization, about 30 to 40 percent of university students had psychological difficulties; around 7 percent experienced the impulse to commit suicide. A significant number of students could overcome their problems through personal consultation with their professors.

In the past, universities provided education by dispensing knowledge, but they neglected to educate by developing the potential for creating new knowledge and nurturing capability for leadership that respects a variety of opinions and helps people in need. Those who attained excellent research achievements were lauded widely and their scholarship qualities praised highly. However, the professors who loved students and gave their students creative education were seldom so honored.

If university education is normalized, the future of Korea will be guaranteed, because the growth engine for the future will be created, and the leaders and talented people who will lead Korea in the future will be educated.

That does not necessarily mean that universities should give up research for education. As the original duty of a university is promoting both education and research, we cannot neglect either. Also, technological innovation and acquisition of new growth engines will not be possible without research achievements. What is necessary now is not a quantitative increase in the number of research papers, but creative education - through which professors communicate with students - as well as qualitative research that can make us a leader in the international academic world.

*The writer is a professor of economic geography at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Sam-ok
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