It will promote local economies

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It will promote local economies

The Education Ministry on July 31 unveiled a set of measures to restructure and support local universities. The measures are designed to promote specialization and breed elite schools across the nation so that outstanding students will prefer to remain near their schools and help contribute to decentralization and development of rural and local urban communities. But some are protesting the key ideas - giving preference to students from local areas in university placement and a hiring quota in public service and public-sector institutions for graduates from local universities - that can serve as the impetus to the plan to foster local universities and balanced social and educational development across the nation through the so-called special law on promoting local universities. The criticisms reflect a very narrow-minded view.

The preferential placement for students from local high schools in the universities of the same area is nothing new. Universities tested it during 2013 admission. It was put on hold until 2014 due to protests. The government wants to make the measure binding by including it in a law to stave off controversy. If top departments like medical and dental schools reserve placement for graduates from local areas, many smart and talented students will prefer to remain in their hometowns instead of applying for universities in or near Seoul.

It could also contain the foray into popular departments in local universities by students from the Seoul area. Since preferential placement was applied, more than 60 percent of graduates from provincial areas chose to enter colleges near their homes. This is why the measure should be extended and encouraged.

The government also proposes to extend the quota for local university students in recruitment for career civil servants from grade five to the lower grade seven. The government already has a quota to fill 20 percent of grade-five civil service positions with local university graduates, but the actual recruitment rate stops at 9 percent. Public-sector companies and organizations are also advised to fill 30 percent of their jobs with new recruits with graduates from local universities. In new recruitment during the first half of last year, the average rate hit 49 percent. But recruitment in popular institutions fell below 30 percent, suggesting there needs to be stricter oversight and guidance to encourage more level employment in the public sector.

What these existing measures need are not new additions, but actions to legalize them to enforce them to produce effective results. Some could protest that legalizing an employment quota for graduates from local universities could be unfair toward peers with degrees from universities in and around the capital. But there are other preferential quotas to promote the hiring of women and enforcing gender equality. The constitution also demands that the state work toward balanced development across the nation. The preferential employment benefits for local university graduates therefore cannot infringe on civilian rights.

It should be regarded akin to American affirmative action, or measures to prevent discrimination in employment based on color, religion, sex, or national origin by offering more equal opportunities for job-seekers from rural areas far from the centralized capital. In the bigger picture, the measure can contribute to vitalizing the local economy and promoting balanced national growth by strengthening local universities that turn out 63 percent of people with higher education degrees and the non-Seoul economy that accounts for 53 percent of total industrial output.

The policy would have little effect if the employee moves to the capital after he or she received preference in entering college and landed jobs due to their origin. Thorough follow-up measures and oversight are necessary. The goal of achieving balanced educational development and national growth can start from making people stay in their hometowns to study, secure jobs and contribute their skills and services to their communities.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a business department professor at Yeungnam University.

By Rhee Jae-hoon
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