Let provincial universities thrive

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Let provincial universities thrive

The Education Ministry’s set of proposals to promote local universities announced in late July aims to strengthen the competitiveness of provincial universities in order to nurture the talent in local areas and encourage them to contribute to the development of local communities. Ruling and opposition lawmakers also proposed similar legislation to vitalize local universities and promote balanced development across the nation ahead of the ministry’s set of measures.

The government proposes to expand recruitment quotas for local university graduates - currently available in the grade five civil service positions - to the lower position of grade seven. But I have doubts about this promotion strengthening the competitiveness of local universities and local economies.

First of all, the quota system lacks effectiveness. Last year, about 43 percent of public-sector institutions had not met the advised target to hire 30 percent of applicants from areas other than Seoul. The ministry proposes to reflect the hiring quota status in performance reviews of public-sector institutions, but blanket implementation of the hiring guidelines without consideration of the specialization and characteristics of each institution cannot help public-sector enterprises.

Second, there is the problem of reverse discrimination against universities based in and around Seoul. The equal opportunity employment quota suggested by the ministry is also included in the legislation motioned by lawmakers. The low employment ratio among graduates from provincial universities has made students prefer schools near Seoul, aggravating the educational gap between colleges near and far from the capital.

But the preferential benefit to local university-degree holders could deal a blow to universities around Seoul, where employment ratios fall below those based within Seoul.

Third, the recruitment preference for applicants from provincial universities aims to foster the talent in local areas to contribute to the development of their communities. But how much can getting jobs in public service or companies help in vitalizing the local economies? What is necessary is to upgrade educational standards in provincial universities so they can produce promising workers and recruits in various professional fields. Employment quotas in the public sector will only water down the individual will and efforts by provincial universities to hone their competitiveness.

Fourth, the government wants to popular schools and departments, like medical and law schools, in provincial universities to set separate quotas to attract top-performing students from local high schools.

The measure, which was experimented with among some local universities in 2013, was scrapped because of controversy about the possible violation of equal constitutional rights. Even if elite students enter local schools with the benefit of the program, they cannot be forced to remain in their hometown after graduation.

Lastly, the quota programs to foster more local talent should not be entirely decided by the education ministry. It must be a joint effort by various government offices and local administrations. But it is unlikely that government offices and local administrative heads will cooperate smoothly in a campaign and committee headed by the education minister.

If the campaign is not pursued as a government policy, offices other than the education ministry may not eagerly cooperate. The government would have to push programs to vitalize local universities as broader comprehensive measures to promote balanced growth in local communities and the economy.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a professor of public administration department at Hansung University.

By Lee Chang-won
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