Korea is education king among OECD countries

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Korea is education king among OECD countries


Korea has the highest percentage of young people with high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees among the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), according to a survey published last month.

Ninety-eight percent of Koreans aged 25-34 graduated from high school as of 2011 while 64 percent graduated from college or graduate school, according to the OECD’s annual Education at a Glance survey 2013. The figures were the highest among the world’s 42 leading economies.

Widening the sample to ages 25 to 64, 81 percent of Koreans graduated from high school and 40 percent from college, higher than the OECD average of 75 percent and 32 percent, the data said.

It was the fifth straight year South Korea topped the list in terms of high school education and the fourth consecutive year it ranked No. 1 in college education.

But the achievement comes with some costs.

Annual tuitions at Korean universities in 2011 averaged $5,395, the fourth highest among 25 countries, following Ireland at $6,450, Chile’s $5,885 and the United States’ $5,402.

The survey found that tuitions at private universities were the fourth-highest, trailing behind the U.S., Slovenia and Australia.

Under Korea’s fiercely competitive education system, Koreans have become used to paying for supplementary education from private cram schools, or hagwon.

The survey showed that Korea spent 7.6 percent of its gross domestic product on education as of 2010, the third-highest following Denmark at 8 percent and Iceland at 7.7 percent. But it was top of the list in terms of private spending on public education (as opposed to government spending), which accounted for 2.8 percent of its gross domestic product, three times higher than the OECD average of 0.9 percent. 2010 marked the 13th consecutive year that Korea topped that list.

There has been growing public concern over high college tuitions, prompting the government to spend more on scholarships and restrict yearly increases in tuition rate to 4.7 percent, down from a previous restriction of 5 percent in 2012.

One of President Park Geun-hye’s presidential campaign pledges was to reduce college tuition by 50 percent, and the Education Ministry pledged to be able to give scholarships to all students in the bottom 30 percent income bracket within this year, a year ahead of schedule.

BY SUNG SI-YOON [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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