Recent data from the Education Ministry showed provincial universities exceeded universities in Seoul and nearby areas in the proportion of graduates landing jobs for the first time this year. The average figure for four-year provincial colleges stood at 55.1 percent, compared with 54.3 percent for those in the Seoul metropolitan area. Among the 20 universities with the highest proportions of employed graduates, 15 were located in provincial cities.
It may be rash to say graduates from provincial universities are generally in a more favorable position to get a job than those from universities in Seoul. When it comes to schools with more than 3,000 graduates each year, major universities in Seoul recorded higher ratios of graduates finding full-time work.
But the latest figures suggest that continuous efforts by many provincial schools to better prepare their students for work have started yielding tangible results. A provincial university specializing in technology education saw 85.9 percent of its graduates employed upon leaving campus this year, far higher than the comparable figures for the country’s most prestigious universities, which remained below 70 percent.
Another welcome phenomenon is that a growing number of provincial university students have lowered their job expectations and applied to work at small and medium-sized companies, which have been shunned by most Korean youths with college diplomas.
The rising employment rate of provincial college graduates, though still far from satisfactory, may hopefully be seen as a possible easing of the severe job mismatch that has distorted the labor market and harmed the efficiency of the economy.
In Korea, more than 70 percent of high school students enter college and less than 60 percent of university graduates succeed in finding work. The percentage of college graduates who land jobs declined from 59.5 percent in 2012 to 58.6 percent this year.
The number of jobless youths between the ages of 15 and 29 has exceeded 400,000, with their parents reeling under the mounting burden of having to support them. At the same time, small and medium-sized enterprises have difficulties filling vacant positions as most young job-seekers are vying for opportunities to work at a select number of big companies and state-run corporations.
It is practically impossible to create enough decent jobs for all college graduates. According to government figures, more than 570,000 graduates stepped into society last year but about 290,000 new jobs matching their education levels were created. A study by the Ministry of Employment and Labor forecast that by 2020 the local labor market will have a deficit of some 320,000 workers with a high school diploma, but a glut of over 500,000 job-seekers with a college degree.
This prediction calls on youths to lower their job expectations and look for more diverse ways to find work. The wisdom of entering university without specific career plans may increasingly be called into question. Universities across the country need to offer more useful programs designed to help their students find work at suitable companies.
The government also has many things to do to get more college graduates into work. It needs to expand support for SMEs, helping them improve their working conditions and salaries to attract more educated job-seekers. A more effective and systematic effort should be made to encourage college graduates to start their own businesses or find job opportunities abroad.