The Defense Ministry’s plan to give extra credits to college students for military service has stirred up a controversy.
Under the envisioned scheme, which the ministry hopes to implement by 2017, nine credits will be given to collegians who have served their mandatory duty. Combined with the existing system of allowing those who joined the military while attending college to get up to nine credits by taking online courses, the measure would help them finish school one semester early.
Defense Ministry officials say they will begin discussions on the matter with the Education Ministry this month and a final decision will be made after collecting opinions from related groups.
The initial response to their plan has been negative. Criticism has been raised over possible discrimination against women, the disabled and people who don’t go on to tertiary education.
A similar controversy erupted in the past over a move to give job seekers who completed their military service additional points on exams taken to enter state organizations. The policy was ruled unconstitutional in 1999.
The latest proposal may not be as controversial or discriminatory as the favored treatment of job applicants who served their military duty. With many university students deferring graduation to get a satisfactory job, the measure that could help them finish school one semester early might not cause significant disadvantages for others in a direct way. As ministry officials have noted, noncollegian soldiers could also benefit from the scheme if they later decide to study at college.
What should be considered more seriously, however, is the effectiveness of the plan and the concern it might distort the essential spirit of military duty.
Most university students complete liberal arts subjects ― those likely to be covered by the extra credit system ― during their initial college years before joining the Army. It would make little sense to give credits for major specialized courses in return for military service.
The most serious criticism may be that the short-sighted measure could diminish the meaning of military service, making it something that should be compensated for rather than a fundamental duty.
It is understandable that Defense Ministry officials consistently feel the need to offer more benefits to those who are made to put their studies or careers on hold to serve in the military for about two years at the most precious time of their lives.
But they should be cautious not to push expedient measures too far. Their latest proposal appears to have gone beyond the proper limit.