1. LG Electronics as well as Hyundai Department store, two of the most prominent Korean conglomerates, opened their so-called “corporate colleges” last month. And I’m sure this sounds pretty foreign to many of us… Could you tell us a little bit about what these are?
Students attending these so-called “corporate colleges” typically spend half of their day studying regular subjects and the other half working or receiving specialized job training. Accepted students are promised to have a full-time job at the company when they graduate. Most if not all of the programs are highly subsidized, sometimes free of charge.
As one example, Hyundai Department Store will offer up to 450 hours of classes a year focused on teaching knowledge and skills necessary for retail workers. Hyundai’s corporate college has already accepted 31 high school graduates and has promised to hire them on a full-time basis after they complete the two-year program, which starts next year. The corporate college also offers a graduate-school-level program specializing in marketing, setting a new precedent. LG Electronics has decided to run 14 programs for 1,500 trainees a year.
2. Are these corporate college programs linked to private sector Korean corporates backed by the government? What’s the government’s response to these novel institutions of education?
South Korea’s Ministry of Employment and Labor is very supportive and cooperative. . Labor Minister Lee Chae-pil has stated: “Schools like these will help recruiters focus more on the practical abilities of job applicants [rather than just looking at their educational background]… We encourage large companies to build a quality labor force through operating such educational facilities.” The same Ministry plans to cover at least 80 percent of the education fees. It has also given the companies the freedom to weight the content of their curricula in favor of their specific industry or niche. The government is preparing to open up to eight more corporate colleges this year. “We want to show job seekers who only have a high school education that they can still pursue higher education while working,” said Park Sang-yoon, an official at the Labor Ministry’s human resources department.
3. Are there other examples of models resembling ‘corporate colleges’ in different countries that are trying to deal with similar problems of unemployment and underemployment? Or is this a unique case?
Corporate colleges outside of South Korea are still the exception, rather than the norm. But examples still exist. For instance, Pearson, the parent company for the Financial Times newspaper will launch Pearson College beginning September 2013. Admitted students will be given internships and a mentor, which will most likely link with Pearson’s many subsidiaries. Students still must pay tuition, but they are granted a final degree, validated by the University of London.
4. What are some potential practical problems that you foresee with an alternative education system like this?
Corporate colleges do not award an official degree, so it is no guarantee of getting a job at companies outside the one sponsoring the school. The education will also be very industry and company specific. So the skill sets learned will probably not be very transferable to other companies in and outside the industry. Still, a subsidized education linked with internship and job prospects will be very appealing for many, but not all, parts of the population.
5. Do you think the attention and governmental support that corporate colleges are receiving, in conjunction with the bad rap traditional universities are getting for low employment figures among graduates, etc, will pressure those standard universities to take on reforms? If so, what kind?
For many South Korean universities, the perception will be that corporate colleges are not a threat, namely for the reasons stated earlier, particularly that no degree is conferred to students. However, many local universities are becoming more focused on practical training. But this can be a challenge since many faculty are theory-based, rather than practice-based. The challenge is to blend both together for the benefit of the student (and future member of the global working population).
6. As an educator and as someone who writes and speaks about education, does this give you cause for concern — the corporatization of education? Education being, in a way, defined and subsidized by moneyed interests?
It does not. Rather, it gives hope to those who may not normally be able to receive education beyond high school, especially for the economically disenfranchised. In our free market system, the more choices the better. If the system of corporate colleges don’t work, then it can be eliminated later on.