Gov’t prods schools on entrepreneurs

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Gov’t prods schools on entrepreneurs

The Blue House has launched a project to promote entrepreneurship on campuses to promote President Park Geun-hye’s vision for a “creative economy” for Korea.

“We commissioned an outside study to look into the entrepreneurship programs at universities,” said a senior Blue House official. “The results will come out next month, and we will announce a comprehensive plan about entrepreneurship education programs by August.”

The announcement appeared to be a reaction to the JoongAng Ilbo’s exclusive report May 18 on the difficulties today’s students encounter trying to juggle their studies and potential business ventures.

The government is expected to ask schools to assist potential student entrepreneurs under the current curriculum rather than asking them to create new programs.

“Let’s say a student is studying performing arts,” said the official. “He or she should be able to start a production agency through the school by getting university funding or help from a start-up assistance program. Instead of creating a new separate major, we want students to get entrepreneurship programs and lectures within the area of their studies.”

The presidential official said last week it was aware of issues raised in the JoongAng exclusive and would try to resolve them by asking for some kind of cooperation from universities.

“Postech is allowing students to take time off up to four semesters to establish a venture,” said a senior presidential aide. “Through the Education Ministry, we will ask other universities, including Seoul National University, to make similar exceptions.”

In the JoongAng Ilbo report, published in the Korea JoongAng Daily the same day, Lee Du-hee, a doctoral student at Seoul National University, talked about the difficulty in creating his own company. Lee asked Microsoft founder Bill Gates during the American magnate’s lecture at the school last month if he should drop out of the university to create his own venture.

Gates and Lee discussed the matter privately, and Lee told the JoongAng Ilbo he decided to drop out because he could not take a leave of absence under current university regulations.

According to a Blue House source, Seoul National University had presented a plan to create a new entrepreneur program, but had no intention of reducing admission quotas for other majors. “Under the current regulations, it is impossible to increase the total admissions,” he said.

The Blue House official criticized universities for being lukewarm on support for student entrepreneurs.

After the report was published, ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Hwang Woo-yea said the society must not make youngsters choose between entrepreneurship and academics.

“For a creative economy and entrepreneurship, the most crucial factors are autonomy and creativity,” said Kim Kwang-doo, head of President Park’s think tank, the National Future Research Institute. “But Korea is bound with rigid practices starting from elementary school and extending through graduate school.

“A medical doctor earns a degree while practicing,” Kim said. “Things do not have to be different with start-up companies.”

Lee Woo-il, dean of the College of Engineering at the Seoul National University, however, expressed caution. “Easing the condition to obtain a degree to allow a student to simultaneously engage in entrepreneurship will only disrupt the knowledge production structure,” he said.

By Kang Tae-hwa, Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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