Exemptions for military service might stay, after all

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Exemptions for military service might stay, after all

After announcing on Tuesday that military service exemptions for college students of natural sciences and engineering will not extend beyond 2023, the Ministry of National Defense has backpedaled from this decision. Initially, the ministry said that it expects that there will be a shortage of able-bodied Korean men to serve in the military from 2020 and that it will subsequently get rid of the current exemption measure.

The announcement has resulted in an immediate backlash from engineering and natural science students from Kaist, Seoul National University, Postech and other universities as well as from small- and medium-sized companies and agencies that count on the added talent of young men.

But Moon Sang-gyun, spokesman of the Defense Ministry, said in a briefing on Thursday that the plan to get rid of the current exemption measure was one that “has been in under constant review since the early 2000s.”

He added, “The plan is under review in related ministries and agencies, however there has been a misunderstanding that the measure is already confirmed, causing controversy beyond what is needed.”

Under the current exemption measure, individuals who are eligible to be drafted for two-year compulsory military service can instead serve out their term as a conscripted police officer, firefighter, in the coast guard or in another relevant agency, company or research institute. Graduate students in natural sciences or engineering at top schools are in especially high demand at research institutes and small- and medium-sized companies.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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