ROK Drop

Avatar of GI KoreaBy on December 10th, 2011 at 3:01 am

South Korea Filled With College Graduates But Few Jobs

This is the same problem that is also happening in America:

Some 80 percent of high school graduates go to college in Korea, whereas in many advanced countries like Germany students freely choose between vocational training and college according to their aptitudes and talents.

In 1980, a mere 39.2 percent of high school graduates went to college, but the percentage jumped to 75.8 percent in 1995 and reached about 80 percent in the early 2000s.

Despite a glut of college graduates every year, companies complain about a shortage of young workers with professional skills. In a survey of 200 corporate executives by Media Research for the Chosun Ilbo in October, 75 percent of respondents said Korean education is failing to produce the workers companies need.

Students only want to go to four-year universities, which give them no professional training. This means that many end up finding themselves unemployed when they graduate. Only 51 percent of college graduates found steady work this year.  [Chosun Ilbo]

I was reading this TIME article about students in the US accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in debt from going to college and then complaining about not being able to find a job.  However, they were studying degrees that don’t lead to jobs in today’s economy.  There was a woman who accumulated $90,000 in student debt for a history degree.  It is madness to accumulate that kind of debt for a history degree.  It is even more madness to then say the government should pay off your debt like many of these people want.  What annoys me more then anything though is the sense of entitlement these people have that since they graduate from college they deserve a high paying job.  You deserve a high paying job based on the skills you can bring your employer and in today’s economy people need high-tech skills and studying liberal arts isn’t going to teach you those skills.  Additionally Americans and South Korean college graduates are both competing with people in other nations like India and China for the jobs that are available.  It is a globalized economy now and people need to make themselves marketable to compete.

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  • ChickenHead
    4:25 am on December 10th, 2011 1

    High-paying positions are filled
    with workers well-trained and skilled.
    But the whiney-azz farts
    in debt for liberal arts
    are probably better off killed…

    …or pretend selling fries makes them thrilled.

  • Teadrinker
    8:26 am on December 10th, 2011 2

    The problem isn’t that many go to college and university, but rather that most graduate because the bar is set really low.

  • randy minobe
    9:14 am on December 10th, 2011 3

    In Korea, isn’t “College” equal to “Community College” in the US, which is two years, and “University” equal to what is simply termed as a “College” in the US, which normally is four years? With all the stress during exam season I can’t see what it is all about if 80% get into Universities. There is no reference to how many of this 80% actually graduate, accept to say that there is a glut. Once again, the news in Korea is as clear as mud. Though, it does look like the Korean education system’s priorities might be a reflection on their seeming emphasis on English comprehension. I don’t know how many Koreans I’ve met that claim high TOEIC or TOEFL scores, and who can read english, (not write), quite well, but can’t understand a single thing I say. Maybe it’s my Chicago accent. Or, maybe the whole Korean education system is a Paper Tiger. The last is a strong statement meant to question the referenced article. Let it be known that I know, or have casually met, many Koreans who have probably found me wanting during conversation. Back to the beginning, is there a difference between College and University in Korea?

  • JoeC
    9:27 am on December 10th, 2011 4

    In a survey of 200 corporate executives by Media Research for the Chosun Ilbo in October, 75 percent of respondents said Korean education is failing to produce the workers companies need.

    Maybe corporations should consider forming partnerships with universities and offer more internship programs to allow students an opportunity to see what is really needed in the working world.

    Do Korean universities offer career counseling so students can get a realistic idea of what they can be expected to do with their chosen major?

  • Teadrinker
    3:32 pm on December 10th, 2011 5

    “In Korea, isn’t “College” equal to “Community College” in the US, which is two years, and “University” equal to what is simply termed as a “College” in the US, which normally is four years?”

    Actually, in most English speaking countries (i.e. every one but the US), a university offers 4 year undergraduate degrees while a college offers 2-3 year degrees, although a college can also be a school within a university. In Korea, it’s a bit more complex. A 2-3 year college is sometimes considered as a university based on its vocation. But, to further complicate things, colleges and universities are typically referred to by the same term.

  • Teadrinker
    3:36 pm on December 10th, 2011 6


    “Do Korean universities offer career counseling so students can get a realistic idea of what they can be expected to do with their chosen major?”

    Not really. As long as they get a job, any job, universities are happy because they use those stats as a marketing tool. On top of that, guys with a BA in English can get jobs in international trade that you’d normally expect someone with an MBA to do…if they went to the right school, of course.

  • guitard
    6:26 pm on December 10th, 2011 7

    My information is a little dated – but it still stands true for the most part.

    In Korea – the most important thing of all with regard to education is the university you attend. Unless you’re going into a research or medical field – your major means almost nothing when it comes to getting a job after graduation.

    I taught at Korean University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) for a few years. One of my students took the entrance exam five times (once a year) before getting accepted. His major was Swahili. I asked why he chose Swahili. He said the ratio for getting into Swahili was 2:1 – the lowest ratio of all the languages offered. I asked what was he going to do with a degree in Swahili after graduating. He said with a degree from HUFS, he should be able to get into one of the chaebol companies. He further explained that when the chaebol hire new college grads – they don’t pay any attention to the prospective employee’s major – the only thing that matters is the university.

  • Teadrinker
    11:13 pm on December 10th, 2011 8


    Yup, I know a guy who was making 7 million won a month straight out of university with a BA in languages because he went to the right school.

  • ChickenHead
    12:12 am on December 11th, 2011 9


    A generation or two ago, America was the same.

    A university degree socialized every student in a common way, established a standard level of basic skills regardless of major, and demonstrated they could be trained further.

    Companies recognized this and would hire quality students with unrelated degrees… willing to invest on-the-job training into a new employee who expected to work there for 20 years.

    Now, universities graduate so many students with NO basic skills regardless of major… witness the writing in many comments here… not to mention reasoning skills.

    There are too many truly worthless majors… or even BELOW worthless… as their subject matter tells a company the potential employee lacks judgement or will be trouble rather than a team player.

    University life is no longer one of common socialization and shared values… with odd or agressive lifestyles being accepted… or even championed.

    Then, there is no loyality between companies and employees. Companies want to hire those with immediate skills and/or experience rather than invest in new workers who will happily run off and work for the competition for a slight pay raise.

    Korea is evolving in this direction.

  • Conway Eastwood
    3:45 am on December 11th, 2011 10

    In the United States, “College” is usually synonymous with “University”.

    In South Korea, “College” and “University” are two different things, with the former being considered a “lesser” institution than the latter.

  • AG
    11:19 am on December 11th, 2011 11

    Different degrees (yes, that includes Liberal Arts) are more flexible than most people think. I have a degree in history and Japanese and found a job teaching English in Japan out of college. I work as an analyst at a think tank now and I’m pursuing a Master’s at the same time. My fellow history and Japanese majors ended up working at banks, real estate firms, publishers, newspapers, other think tanks, schools, law firms, importer-exporter contractors, accounting. The history major all have jobs that require to read and summarize what they read very quickly (basically what we did in class). For what it’s worth, of the people I knew in college, only two of us actually sought advice from career counseling (and of them was me).

  • someotherguy
    6:04 pm on December 11th, 2011 12

    Its the ultimate catch-22. Companies are looking for people with experience for immediate use, they don’t want to invest time / money into growing / training new employees. So all that time and money invested into four years of protesting and drinking will put you in the same line as everyone else. Unless you have friends on the inside.

  • kangaji
    7:19 pm on December 11th, 2011 13

    Yeah, the Kangaji, despite putting some years in heavily studying Korean language and economics for a BA in Asian Studies (which sounds like the Kangaji studied nothing), thinks he will go back for a BS in engineering so the Kangaji can get hired by US firms to work in Korea or get picked up for active duty if more wars don’t keep the Kangaji deployed between future classes. The Kangaji is glad that the GI Bill and the Center for Korean Studies paid for that BA and is not $20,000 in debt.

  • ChickenHead
    12:31 am on December 12th, 2011 14

    What kind of engineering, Kangaji?

  • Avatar of GI KoreaGI Korea
    7:11 am on December 12th, 2011 15

    Kangagi, I would think that specializing in Korean and economics would be enough already to land you a job with a company doing business in Korea or with Korean businesses. An engineering degree would definitely set you apart though. It is also good you are not in massive debt like the people in TIME article that graduated with outrageous amounts of debt.

  • JoeC
    11:53 am on December 12th, 2011 16

    The problems with education debt have been further amplified during the current recession.

    Economists worry about the problems down the road for the unprecedented number of college graduates getting off to such poor starts with years or many months of unemployment or sever underemployment. And carrying debts that further depletes the inherited asset wealth of families already being crushed by property wealth loss and job loss. It could further increase the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

    The World War II era GI Bill was credited with playing a significant part in growing and stabilizing the middles class in America. We’ve taken major steps backward.

  • kangaji
    5:00 pm on December 12th, 2011 17

    I’m thinking about manufacturing engineering or materials engineering. I’ve still got to get a lot of pre-engineering classes out of the way before I go that route. Civil would make the most sense if I was going for active duty but given all the real estate bubbles I see coming I don’t think it’s the best idea. Also with all the budget cuts, I don’t see the army increasing the active duty roster any time soon, unless the civilian leadership decides going to war with Iran or Pakistan with marginal lines of communication is a good idea after the next election.

  • Teadrinker
    5:27 pm on December 12th, 2011 18


    Civil engineering might be the most flexible position, although I don’t know if that’s a good thing. Aren’t most civil engineers actually working in management?

  • K
    6:30 am on December 13th, 2011 19

    Nowadays students and parents alike start to realize that the course they take are at least as much important as the school they graduate from.

    That is not the only example, of course. Are some of you guys even posting knowing the latest trend?

    Well, Guitard at least accepted that his information is not the most up to date.

  • kangaji
    6:54 pm on December 13th, 2011 20

    Schools like 성균관대 seem like the wave of the future to me also, especially if you’re talking about biotechnology.


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