Easier tests planned for aspiring diplomats

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Easier tests planned for aspiring diplomats

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry took another step yesterday to overhaul the way it hires junior diplomats, a month after it unveiled a blueprint to abolish the foreign service test, which has been criticized for requiring rote drilling by applicants.

The Foreign Ministry has faced pressure from the Blue House to reform its hiring practices, which critics say fail to bring in talented prospective diplomats or experienced professionals with potentials to represent the country overseas.

The Foreign Ministry yesterday held its first public hearing in southern Seoul to discuss how it will change its hiring practices, with six panels of lawmakers, political scientists, Foreign Ministry officials, public administration experts and journalists.

“Our plan is to have the new plan passed at the cabinet and the National Assembly during the latter half of this year, before it goes through administrative preparations and officially goes into practice in 2012,” said one senior Foreign Ministry official.

According to the blueprint announced in May, the ministry is expected to abolish in 2012 the current test system for hiring entry-level employees, which has been in place since 1968.

Under the current system, all applicants first take a so-called Public Service Aptitude Test, specially designed by the government to test knowledge of history, analytical skills and linguistic ability.

The applicants also write essays on international affairs, economics, international law, and in English and other foreign languages in the second round before going to third round interviews with senior diplomats.

Most of the exams require intense rote drilling and test-focused exercises, meaning most aspiring diplomats study for the tests for years, as do other public servant hopefuls.

Under the new system, applicants will have a streamlined process of the PSAT test and essay writing. Those who speak foreign languages other than English fluently will get extra credit, while applicants specializing in areas like energy, trade, arms reduction and international development will also get extra credit.

The 60 applicants who pass the three-phase process will be admitted to a so-called “diplomacy academy,” where they will go through intensive education on everyday aspects of diplomatic missions. After a yearlong stint at the training center, 50 to 55 of the students will be accepted into the foreign service.

The last hiring session under the current system will take place in the first half of 2012. The new system is expected to take effect in June of 2012.


By Jung Ha-won [hawon@joongang.co.kr]

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