Better ideas for better diplomats

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Better ideas for better diplomats

Can this administration get anything right? With great fanfare, President Lee Myung-bak’s government pledged to create a postgraduate school devoted to fostering future diplomats from diverse backgrounds in an ever-changing global environment. But the proposed bill submitted to the National Assembly to establish the so-called national diplomacy academy would merely tweak the existing national civil service examination.

Under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s proposal, the academy would be under the auspices of the ministry and have a permanent director. All other details are left out of the bill, leaving it up to the president to fill in the blanks.

The bill calls for about 45 to 50 students to be admitted to the academy each year for a one-year program. About 40 of the graduates would be given fifth-level junior positions in the Foreign Ministry. The proposal would also have quotas for special-field experts - including those with foreign language skills - to hire people of various backgrounds and capacities.

But 60 to 70 percent of incoming students would still sit for a test - not much different from the current civil service examination. The only difference from the current system is that a special recruitment quota, which came under fire last year after the controversial hiring of the then-foreign minister’s daughter, has been scrapped and the training period has been extended from four months to a year.

The creation of a national diplomacy academy was proposed because the current civil service examination fails to identify the talent required to address the various challenges around the world. Moreover, the academy was expected to break the elite and rigid culture of the ministry, where officials have been selected through the civil service examination only.

But the plan is now in tatters in the face of opposition from various ministries. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology refuses to bestow the academy a postgraduate degree, and the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, which is in charge of administering public service exams, has no desire to give up its power to hire aspiring diplomats. And the Ministry of Strategy and Finance has been dragging its feet in extending the necessary budget to create and operate the academy.

The government should come up with the best possible ideas to produce top-quality diplomats to meet the daunting challenges of the 21st century.
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