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Korea ranks low among OECD nations in employment rate for university graduates

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By Jun Ji-hye

Korea is among the lowest-ranking countries among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) members in terms of the employment rate for university graduates, due mainly to a serious mismatch between their majors and available jobs.

According to the Korea Economic Research Institute (KERI), Thursday, Korea's employment rate for university graduates, aged between 25 and 34, stood at 75.2 percent in 2020, ranking 31st out of the 37 OECD nations.

The figure was compared to 90.6 percent for Britain and the OECD average of 82.9 percent.

The institute attributed the low employment rate for university students to a severe mismatch between their majors and job openings, citing that this rate was tallied at 50 percent as of 2015, ranking first among the OECD nations at that time.

Statistics Korea issued a similar survey this year that showed the major-job mismatch rate came to 52.3 percent, meaning that more than half of university graduates were getting jobs unrelated to their majors.

The KERI said the limit of student quotas at universities has caused such a mismatch.

"Stanford Computer Science Department increased its student quota from 141 in 2008 to 745 in 2020, while the same department at Seoul National University, which for a long time accepted just 55 students, only increased its capacity to 70 last year," a KERI official said. "Universities here should ease such limits to supply the manpower necessary for industries at the right time."

A shortage of jobs for highly educated people was cited as another reason for the low employment rate.

The number of university graduates has increased by an average 3 percent annually from 2013 to last year, but job openings for them have only risen by 1.3 percent, according to KERI.

The institute also raised concerns over job reductions in existing industries such as manufacturing, due to the rapidly changing industrial structure in recent years.

In line with the development of technologies, the country's employment inducement coefficient ― the number of newly employed people per sale of 1 billion won ― of an entire industry decreased from 138,000 in 2010 to 101,000 in 2019, while the figure in the manufacturing industry fell from 78,600 to 62,500 during the same period.

"Young people in this country are very well-educated, but manpower distribution has been inefficient," said Choo Gwang-ho, in charge of economic policies at KERI. "The barrier to the job market should be lowered by easing the limit of student quotas at universities and strengthening the competitive edge of a university education."

Jun Ji-hye


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