Our school brand obsession

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Our school brand obsession

A school brand lasts a lifetime in our society. The name on someone’s last diploma affects job prospects, wages and promotions. Young Koreans waste their youth to acquire this name. Notoriously fierce competition to get into the best universities chains students to desks throughout their childhood and teenage years, longer than anywhere else in the world, for a chance at this so-called “free pass” to a privileged society.

But the vicious cycle may finally be coming to an end. According to a survey, one in five graduates of four-year universities earns less than his or her peers who only have a high school education. More students are opting for universities in provinces instead of elite schools in the capital because they guarantee better job prospects. It would be a stretch to say the value of a school name is diminishing, but recent changes could suggest people are beginning to be less concerned with educational background.

The long-held practice of valuing the school name ahead of individual abilities is losing ground in the thinning job market. Graduates of four-year universities, including elite schools that demand more than 10 million won ($9,473) a year for tuition, have a hard time finding decent jobs. Obsession with university names could turn out to be a complete waste. Corporate human resources officers are recruiting novices based on talent and potential rather than school records, and the rate of university admissions, in which Korea ranks No. 1 in the world, has fallen sharply in recent years.

Overreliance on school brands would decline if young people could find good jobs through vocational training alone. Some have advised universities to increase student quotas in science, technology, engineering and math, and cut humanities departments to improve the odds of graduates landing jobs. But this cannot be a lasting solution. The government must get involved to do away with premiums for prestigious school names. Companies should provide equal opportunities and narrow the income gap between college graduates and other workers. It is not normal for a university degree to dominate a person’s life. Society must value a person’s capabilities, not just the school from which he or she graduated.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 23, Page 34

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