A league of their own

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A league of their own

The author is the head of financial planning teamof the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Hey, they just call each other Dr. Kim or Dr. Lee!”

An engineer friend complained of stress after moving to a new company. As the engineer was recognized for performance at work, he moved to a research institute at a large corporation and got a salary raise. But the engineer is now surrounded by Ph.D. holders from top schools like Seoul National University, KAIST or Postech.

They address each other as “doctor” instead of their position, and talk about their professors in grad schools. So there was no room for a bachelor’s degree-holder from a non-top-tier school. The engineer found it absurd that college and graduate school names were still important more than 10 years after graduating.

I was surprised how this culture still exists in companies. Then I doubted my eyes when I saw the news made by the Research Institute for Healthcare Policy under the Korean Medical Association (KMA). In a question asking which doctor a patient would choose for an important diagnosis, the first quality was “A doctor who studied hard at school in order not to fall out of the top spot at school every year.”

It is absurd to determine a doctor’s quality by their high school report card.

The KMA changed the phrasing after harsh criticism, but bitterness remains. What do grades, education level and academic background mean in this society?

A former executive at a financial company once gave me a great piece of advice. “Once you are in the society, you should not talk about which college you went to. That’s the last resort when a person is not confident about competency. Don’t extend contracts with employees who want to live on the diploma for life.”

There is no way of knowing whether a company discriminates based on the academic backgrounds of their employees. But I agree to his point that college admission in Korea has become overly competitive because one college degree guarantees a lifetime career.

In the age of Covid-19, when people survive on their own, the infinite competition to be the top is likely to be fiercer. As in-person classes are cancelled and after-school academies are closed, some parents who can afford private tutors consider the crisis “a chance to widen the gap.” Academic snobbism and competitive education are not new issues, but they are especially significant as coronavirus keeps students distant from schools.
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