Credits won’t benefit all soldiersThe Defense Ministry has come up with the idea of granting college or university credit for military service amid growing demands to reward compulsory conscription that mostly affects young men in their 20s. The government is right to consider some kind of compensation for the service it demands from its male citizens. But whether that should be in the form of school credit is arguable.
First of all, there is the question of fairness. The reward can be discriminatory toward women and the disabled, who are not eligible for active duty, as well as soldiers who are not attending college or not planning to seek higher education. The credit will be wasted on those do not pursue a college education. They also do not help those who go into the service after they finish school.
The Defense Ministry claims the reward will be beneficial to the 85 percent majority. But how is it going to compensate the remaining 15 percent? About 68,000 soldiers would be excluded simply because they did not choose or could not afford college.
Secondly, can military service count toward higher education? The ministry proposes that all men discharged from their duties should be granted nine credits in liberal or general courses. This is an outdated military regime mind-set, which places the highest value on military experience. Military training cannot have educational value, just as a university education cannot supplant military training. Universities are not training institutes that generate grades and credit for graduation and job placement. Even in past military regimes in which military training and drills were compulsory subjects for students, military service never counted as an academic course.
Then there is the question of efficacy. The Defense Ministry said it will leave granting credit up to the universities. But universities are generally opposed to awarding credit for military service. Credit transfers for military service can demean faculty and course value, and the system won’t have any effect if it is shot down by most universities. Those attending schools that don’t recognize military service as course credit will feel discriminated against.
The government, however, has no means to force universities to apply the rewards system. It said it will design a bill after collecting opinions from universities. But at the end of the day, any sign of force could infringe upon university independence.
The Defense Ministry should come up with a compensation package that could persuade and satisfy most people. Since the Constitutional Court ruling in 1999 that banned preferential benefits, the ministry has been limited in finding an appropriate alternative that could build upon the privilege point system.
In order to find a reasonable solution, the government must try to draw a public consensus on the scope and context of a rewards system. Then it should come up with a universal system that will benefit all servicemen. There are many more solutions - such as a discharge allowance, including service years in national pension coverage and recognizing service years as career experience or an extension of the retirement age.
What is important is the government’s intention. President Park Geun-hye has promised “seed” money for all men who complete their military service. The Defense Ministry came under attack for trying to go around that promise by delivering the sum after deducting it from soldiers’ monthly salaries. College credit is an easy and cheap solution for the Defense Ministry.
National defense is the most fundamental protection for people’s lives and safety. The government should be wiser in coming up with a lasting and truly beneficial rewards system.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
*The author is a New Politics Alliance for Democracy representative.
By Jin Sung-joon