Names don’t make the universities anymore

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Names don’t make the universities anymore

For Kim Kyung-ju, a native of Daegu, years of studying to get into a good university finally paid off late last year when she was admitted to Seoul’s Yonsei University to study interior architecture.

Friends and family fully expected her to take advantage of Yonsei’s offer. It’s one of the top schools in Korea. And, of course, it’s in Seoul.

But instead, Kim decided to go to Pusan National University (PNU) to study industrial engineering.

“Since I was an 11th grader, I have wanted to study a convergence academic course, which the department of industrial engineering at PNU offers,” says the college freshman.

An equally important factor was the industrial engineering department’s high graduate employment rate - and the promise of a comfortable career path.

According to PNU, 82.1 percent of its graduates who majored in industrial engineering landed jobs in their first year out of college. In terms of an employment rate for industrial engineering graduates, the school ranked seven out of the 61 schools nationwide.

With an increasingly competitive job market for university graduates, and a high level of youth unemployment, long-held patterns of school choices by high school seniors are changing. In the past, everyone wanted to go to one of the top schools in Seoul. Now, more high school seniors are looking for educations that will guarantee them jobs.

A cluster of 20-some universities located in Seoul are referred to as “In-Seoul schools,” and in the past whether one went to a school in Seoul was a measure of academic success. But that metric is giving way to harsh new realities.

Yu Chang-hyun, 19, is another student who chose career opportunities over the reputation of an elite school during early admission season last year. Yu was admitted to top-ranked schools including Seoul National University (SNU), Pohang University of Science and Technology in Pohang, North Gyeongsang, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon and Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) in Seoul.

Instead of going to SNU to study shipbuilding and maritime engineering, Yu decided to study semiconductor system engineering at SKKU, a decision that defied his family and friends’ expectations.

Yu admitted in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo that he agonized over whether to chose the school with the best reputation, which was SNU.

“I did think about choosing a university with better name value,” he says. “But I concluded that Sungkyunkwan would best prepare me as an expert in the semiconductor industry and help me land a job.”

Yu says virtually all of SSKU’s semiconductor engineering majors found jobs with ease right upon graduation.

Last year, Kim Ji-won won admission to Dongkuk and Konkuk universities, both schools in Seoul, and Korea University of Technology and Education (KUTE) in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, about 100 kilometers south of Seoul. KUTE is ranked No. 1 among all four-year universities nationwide for its employment rate of graduates, which was 85.9 percent this year.

Kim said many people told him to choose a school in Seoul over KUTE, but he wasn’t convinced. “I don’t believe in name value of a school,” he says. “I believe in the fact that KUTE has the highest employment rate.”

Kim Jong-woo, a teacher at Yangjae High School in Seoul and head of an association of teachers who give career counseling, said he has seen an increase in the number of students and parents who check carefully graduate employment rates and possible career paths offered by universities.

“As students face ever-increasing cut-throat competition in the job market, there is a widespread sentiment among teenagers that they should not choose a university just for its name,” said Kim. In the past, Kim says, students would choose any school in Seoul regardless of what field of study they were admitted into.

But many people still believe a school’s name and reputation is a short-cut to high-quality employment, especially in the older generation.

“It is not uncommon to see a student’s wish to go to a regional university that offers specialized and competitive curriculum get crushed by strong objections by their parents,” said Koo Sung-wan, who teaches at Chungnam Foreign Language High School in Ansan, South Chungcheong.

Analysts say parents remember how it was in the old days when people who went to regional schools were subject to discrimination.

“Many teachers and parents have perspectives from decades ago,” said Chung Jae-young, a professor of education at Ewha Womans University.


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