South Korea, Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Education?

High education levels and salary expectations have created something of a disconnect between South Korean job seekers and employers.

In a classroom in Seoul, students study for an exam
In a classroom in Seoul, students study for an exam
Jason Strother

SEOUL — Most mornings, Lee Seung-hoon takes the subway to Noryangjin, a neighborhood filled with private academies that prepare students for the civil-servant exam. His school is located in a seven-story building called the Mega Study Tower.

It's a strategic choice. Even when the economy is faring poorly, the government still hires. Indeed, South Korea"s new president, Moon Jae-in, has pledged to create thousands more public service jobs for university grads. Also, it's hard to get fired from such jobs. Little wonder public sector positions are known as the "iron rice bowl."

Lee Seung-hoon, 23, has also been studying engineering, but chose to take some time off to study for the civil servant exam. "It's not that I think that being a public servant is such a good job, it's just secure," he says. "Some of my friends want to earn a lot of money, so they'll try to work for a big conglomerate, but I prefer stability."

For most South Korean families, the right kind of job is narrowly defined.

Job security is an understandable objective, particularly right now, with the youth unemployment rate hovering around 10%, well above the national average. Complicating matters are announcements from conglomerates like Samsung and LG, which say they won't increase hiring this year.

Lee Seung-hoon admits that he's not particularly passionate about engineering or civil service. "Parents want their kids to get a good job, so you have to go to university. It doesn't even matter what you study. You just get into whatever major you can," he explains. "Passion in life doesn't matter. And so we lose interest in what we're studying along the way."

Great expectations

Jasper Kim, a teacher at Ewha Women's University's Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul, says that for most South Korean families, the right kind of job is narrowly defined. "Here the right job is a government job, or working for one of these large conglomerates," he explains. "And so parents put all their resources, economic resources, emotional resources, into their kids to obtain this goal."

Nearby Japan and Taiwan have dealt with high youth unemployment rates, too. But Kim argues that it's a bit different here. Korean parents try to ensure that their kids get the best jobs, he says, by not only putting them through university — an estimated 70% of people in their 20s and 30s have a university degree, but are also spending lots of money on private education. As a result, there's an academy for almost every profession here.

Kim says it's not statistically possible for all these well-educated people to land desired positions. All this training and education, in other words, is part of the problem. "Korea is suffering from basically too much education," he says. "This is a group of young kids who have too many degrees, spent too much time in schools."

They also have high expectations that, compared to what the job market is actually able to offer right now, are "irrationally exuberant," says Kim. There are jobs to be had — in the so-called SMEs (small or medium sized enterprises), he says. But many college grads refuse to go that route: They consider themselves overqualified, and want better working conditions and more money.

Help wanted

At a youth job fair in Goyang, a satellite city just outside of Seoul, about 50 SMEs are looking to hire on the spot. Some jobseekers came here dressed in a suit and tie. Choi Kang-min, 27, is one of them. He graduated earlier this year with a degree in automotive engineering and says he'd much rather work for a big company because he's only heard bad things about small firms.

"I have a friend who works at a small company and he's always working overtime," Choi says. "That sounds really bad to me."

Heo Gun, whose company makes cases for electric wiring, is recruiting at the job fair. He says SMEs like his have gained an unfair reputation. "Jobseekers here have this preconception that all SMEs exploit their employees," he says. "Yes, some do. But not all. I wish they would be more open to working for firms like ours."

Over-working their employees isn't the only thing SMEs are known for. They also pay a lot less than the big name firms, which is why Han Yoo-jung, 23, says she's hesitant to work for one. "My professor says that if you work for a conglomerate, you'll earn in one year what it would take 10 years to make at a small company."

Still, now that big name firms are cutting back on hiring, some young Koreans are starting to reconsider their options. As hesitant as she is, Han Yoo-jung admits at this point that she'll take what she can get.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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