Saturday, July 10, 2010

Academic Inflation

Are Koreans Too Educated? asks the headline in the JoongAng Daily. It reports that 81.9% of last year's high school graduates went on to college. By comparison, the US number was only 70.1% (sez the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The KEDI (Korean Educational Development Institute) released a survey of 660 "experts"--which turns out to be college students and professors--who are worried that what seems like a positive about Korea is in fact a negative: something called academic inflation. What that is is that an excess of highly-educated individuals end up incompetition with each other, leading to an inflation of minimum job requirements, as positions which do not require degree-level skills are filled with degree-holders.
When asked in which circumstances the country’s academic inflation is most serious, 38.4 percent [of the KEDI survey respondents] answered “when I see many unemployed people who possess a master’s or doctoral degree,” while 29.18 percent said that it is when they see people with academic degrees who apply for jobs that don’t match their educational backgrounds.
A majority of respondents agreed that academic inflation is causing harm to society. The most commonly cited negative social implications caused by academic inflation was wasting money on education, with 48.8 percent of responses, while 22.7 percent answered, “depletion of the labor force due to the prolonged length of time spent before settling on a job.”

But the band marches on. Over at the Korea Times, a counterpoint is provided by a story about Korean students overseas who come home during the summer--to study at hagwons!
These hagwon are cheaper, compared to their U.S. counterpart. For example, Kaplan, a U.S.-based test preparation institution, charges $1,300 for 14 lectures in Los Angeles, while it costs $1,200 for 32 lectures at a hagwon in Seoul, making an economic sense for these students to return to Korea for the summer.

Leaving aside the expense of airfare, the article makes the assumption that 32 lectures in a Korean hagwon is equal to 14 lectures from Kaplan. This is an unsupported assertion, and is questionable at best, since Korea spends far more on test prep than any other country, with worse results.

There are several reasons for this, including historical affinity (the relatedness of the language to English), word order differences, incentive, and the like. But educational quality is certainly right up there. Which, after all, is why I'm here.


Anonymous said...

Late reaction...

It doesn't help that Ph.D. degrees can be bought in Korea, something I have recently seen myself, and something that has for instance also been reported in the following thread:

See also the following blog post:

Tuttle said...

Thanks for the comment, Anon. Lateness doesn't matter here. However you should realize that anonymous posters lose points because they don't stand behind what they say--even enough to post via avatar.

Ph.D. degrees can be bought in any country and I'm not aware that Korea is a "diploma mill". I have a friend who is an ordained minister for $20. Took my Dad 10 years.

Still, Anon (if I may call you that), sourcing an eslcafe forum doesn't do much to support your point ...

Anonymous said...

Yes, you have to take my word for it. I prefer to stay anonymous because I have no interest in getting involved in a scandal or a cover up (cf. the ‘punishment’ by the Korean authorities of Hwang Woo-suk).

Given these articles and others (Ph.D. Holders Surpass 10,000 in Korea), as well as my recent personal experience and anecdotic evidence, I was just wondering how ‘selling’ Ph.D. degrees (or other degrees, for that matter) also contributes to the academic inflation in Korea. Note that ‘selling’ is a simplification, as a more complex construct was used. Further, I also take issue with the question "Are Koreans too educated?", as there is not much education involved when a degree can just be bought, or when degrees are given away as if it where candy...