"Congratulations on graduating in 4 years!” “Spend your extra year well.” This dual message was written on the congratulatory banner on the campus of a university that held its graduation ceremony on the 15th of February of this year. These days, graduating from a four-year college in 4 years is worthy of congratulations. Ms. Kim (24) who graduated from the Department of Law that day said “There were 20 students who started at the same time as me, but everyone else delayed graduation and I graduated alone” She says she felt there was something lacking. There were many graduates who attended the ceremony, however they took a picture for a moment and went straight to the library. Mr. Park (24) who will take a TOEIC exam at the end of this month said, “Many students who are seeking open recruitments for the first half of the year did not came to graduation ceremony,” and “For most students who graduated but failed to find a job, graduation is only the start of a different kind of pain.”
The background of delayed graduations
In 1997, the labor market was frozen by the foreign exchange crisis. Since then, university fifth-year seniors (the NG tribe) who went overseas for English training or took a leave of absence to acquire certifications delayed graduation until jobs became available. “NG” stands for “No Graduation.” In the 15 years since then, sixth-year and even seventh-year seniors have begun to appear because of the severe economic recession that was brought on by the global financial crisis.
The number of fifth-year seniors is increasing every year
Statistics from the Korea Labor Institute showed that the number of students who had extended school registration and delayed graduation increased to over a million. In the first semester of this year, the number of students who registered for a ninth-semester at Dongguk-University were greater than the number of graduates for the first time in its history. In the case of 15 universities in Seoul, registrations for ninth-semesters and delayed graduation accounted for 40% of all seniors. Seoul National University had 1,852 and Ewha Womans University had a similar number. There were 7 universities that had over 900 students who graduated after their ninth-semester including Hongik University (1,500 students), Sungkyunkwan University (970 students) and Soongsil University (960 students). An employment community conducted a survey with 623 university seniors. The results showed that 42.7% said that they plan to delay graduation. The respondents’ majors ranged from Business (52.3%), the Natural Sciences and Social Sciences (42.4%), Art and Physical Education (37.5%) and Humanities (37%). When asked how they planned to delay their graduation, the most common response was “To submit a formal application to the university (57.9%)” In addition, “Not fullfilling a mandatory requirement like TOEIC,” “Intentionally failing to submit a graduation thesis,” “Requesting an F grade from a professor” and “Withdrawl from a required subject” were other ways used to delay graduation. As for the various periods of graduation delays, “6 months (68.1%)” was the most common. “One year (22.9%),” and “Until I find a job (6.8%)” were the other common responses.
A Yeungnam University fifth-year senior’s daily routine
Miss “B” goes to the school library early every morning to study TOEIC. She has lunch alone quickly and if she has a study group plan in the afternoon, she attends the study group activities like mock personality interviews, debate interviews, PT interviews, and feedback with team members. During her study time, she becomes a real applicant or interviewer and she can hear constructive feedback. It is really helpful because she can fix minor problems. After she finishes studying, she does company analyses and a vocational test study with similar people. Ordinarily, before dinner time, even when group study is finished, she goes to the library again and studies. Miss B said “It is a day that begins with study and ends with study,” and she smiled bitterly.
The reasons for graduation delay
First, due to concern about how underclassmen perceive them, many seniors choose to graduate only after finding a job. Second, to build specific skills needed for employment like TOEIC, certificates in comparison to competitors in the job market. Third, anxiety caused by graduating and being unemployed. Fourth, due to the lack of credits, they choose graduation delay inevitably.
The biggest reason for choosing graduation delay
Not long ago SAMSUNG group restricted applicants to those who are soon to graduate, and seniors who are one semester from graduating in order to deal with the problems created by employment application repeaters. After Korea’s biggest enterprise decided on this recruitment policy, it spread to the employment market entirely. In contrast, opportunities for employment for those who graduated on time and could not find a job are decreasing. So the government has enacted the “Law of Prohibition in Age Discrimination and Employment Promotion for Older People” which was established to resolve discrimination, so the labor market looked like it was settling down. However, in a short time, most enterprises have started to institute internship systems only for students who are in university. Therefore, in the current recruiting environment, older graduates are at a disadvantage compared to graduates-to-be. For this reason, a university diploma is like an unemployment certificate and students hide in school to avoid being branded as unemployed.
Problems created by graduation delays
If students choose to delay graduation rashly, they could become NG people, a No Good person. Most human resource directors expressed negative opinions about graduation delays and leaves of absence for job seeking. These directors often conclude that students who delay graduation simply postpone it at the last moment, and then frantically try to raise their certifications and gain experience to get hired at a desirable enterprise. There is an opinion that students who delay graduation are very likely to have high expectations about the company they want to work for. Which leads to the assumption that if they are hired by different companies, they will not be loyal to companies that hire them initially.
There are also criticisms that the “system of graduation delay” has just become another way for the university to make money even if students do not request to earn additional credits because they have to pay certain fees to the university in order to maintain enrolled status. The university creates an obligation to pay tuition unconditionally regardless of how many additional credits are requested. The system of graduation delay is based on the rule that students who delay graduation and stay enrolled at the university from 6 months to 1 year even if they hardly studied and passed the required credits. Most universities make students who request a graduation delay apply for classes unconditionally and apply differential tuitions according to credits taken. In addition, several universities receive membership fees of 20% if credits are not requested and only maintain the students status. Many universities like Yonsei, Sogang, Myongji, Kyonggi, Seoul Digital, Chonbuk National Univ. are making new rules for students who delay graduation. For example, one rule states that students will only pay according to the number of requested credits. In the case of Yeungnam University, “a registration per credit hour system” is being implemented for students who are below 9 credits. Students who register for 1-6 credits must pay tuition per credit and students who register for 7-9 credits, must pay 1/2 tuition. There are universities where students must pay tuition to be considered an enrolled student. Pusan National Univ. and Korea Maritime Univ. accept graduation delays when students pay 20% membership fees. Pukyong National Univ. also accepts graduation delays when students pay membership fees that are 1/6 of the tuition fees. Many universities justify charging membership fees due to the cost of administration and use of school facilities. However, these standards are ambiguous and the amount of payment is too much. Relevant university officials stated, “We impose tuition for blocking abuse in graduation delay requests,” and “membership fees let students keep their position and allow them to use school facilities. So we cannot stop receiving fees.” Relevant government ministries like, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology stated they must give autonomy to the universities about graduation delay. One official said, “If complaints from students come in, we can only give adjustment advice to that university,” and “we must entrust graduation schedules and standards to the judgement of the universities, so we have no universal remedy, and we can only approach each case individually.” The total fees that are currently being charged to students who delay graduation have reached 5 trillion won as more and more students choose to stay in school. This is directly connected to personal time-wasting and national economic loss. In Korea there is a saying that talented people are a resource, but this is a situation whereby talented people keep themselves locked in an ivory tower.
Enterprises have a mission to develop a system to evaluate a student’s ability objectively, not based on graduation time. They also need to provide opportunities to students who obtain various qualifications. Then, the company can eat their cake and have it too by hiring excellent labor and decreasing employment application repeaters. Universties must also get involved. The fact that there are many universities that do not take any membership fees from students who delay graduation or change it into a flat sum system shows that this is possible. Moreover, it is just an excuse for those that argue that taking membership fees is inevitable. In reality, Hyupsung University, Dong-Eui University, Busan University of Foreign Studies, and Kosin University are just a few examples of universities that do not impose an extra charge if no additional credits are requested. Additionally, Tongmyong University shows a classic example that it obligates students to sign up for at least one unit, but it merely costs 35,000 won per unit. It is not right that universities put a financial burden on students who delay their graduation because they are dealing with the worst job market in many years. Jin-Ho Park, the assistant administrator of the team of social policy at CCEJ (the Citizens´ Coalition for Economic Justice) said, “If universities want to steadily take tuition fees, they have to provide after-sales services like programs for helping the jobless finding jobs.” Konkuk University introduced the “Innovation to promote characterization course” for success in getting jobs and provided human resources specialist employment capability classes, 1:1 matching employment consulting, and other services for free. Moreover, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies is operating a “Graduates Reeducation Program” for jobless students during every vacation period. They provide various programs like computer utilization ability, business leadership, a preparation course for Chinese certification, and other programs. In this way, it is important for universities to change their stance change toward “graduation postponement.” The university administration should operate on the side of the students, and not as a business.
The Observer analyzed this problem and came up with possible solutions by interviewing a No Graduation student, a personnel manager, and a professor.
Interview with Miss “B”, No Graduation student, Cultural Anthropology
Q) Why are you delaying graduation?
A) Until last semester, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Like others, I thought receiving good grades and a great TOEIC score would be enough to get a job easily, but when I filled out my application forms, I realized I was wrong. I had difficulty writing a letter of self-introduction, especially the question, “What made you choose our company?” Literally, it was difficult for me to fill out the application form because I did not know why I applied to this company and these worries repeated themselves. Therefore, I chose No Graduation because I think it is better to have more time than apply to anywhere unconditionally.
Q) If you take one more semester, what is your plan?
A) At first, I will try to analyze companies with a study group for getting a job that I will join. Other people in the group have a lot of data about companies and they try to research one or more companies they would really like to work for. Now, I am also researching just one company that I think it will match my vision and that has the right people and duties for me. In addition, I plan to search for many activities like volunteering which I can do together with other people.
Q) What do you think about the phenomenon that has created the word “No Graduation” or “Graduation postponement” and how do you think we can solve this problem?
A) I can say it is a natural social phenomenon. There is a big gap between finding a job after graduation and finding a job as a student. It makes us care about what they think and as a student if we do nothing after graduation it will sap our confidence and make us shrivel. Looking at it objectively, the poor job market and the worsening economy are becoming problems, but now I think facing that situation as students, we also are to be blamed. Among students who are preparing to get a job, students who have specific goals are difficult to find. I think it is difficult because they perform like others. When I look at someone who gets a job, they made decisions about the duties they wanted to carry out and their favorite companies obviously. I think they succeeded because they prepared for their duties and adjusted their planning for 10 years from now. We have to prepare for employment seriously.
Interview with Tae-Hyun Noh, Personnel manager, KRX(Korea exchange)
Q) What do you think about the phenomenon that created the word “No Graduation” or “Graduation postponement?”
A) In short, this is a miserable reality and it needs to be solved immediately, because university is not a place to prepare to get jobs. It is desirable that a university student takes part in various endeavors in university like extracurricular activities and study, that way he or she can be properly prepared to get a job. However, companies dislike students who spend more than 4 years on campus only to prepare to get a job. I want to ask students, “If you were a personnel manager, would you choose these kinds of students?”
Q) What do you think of the situation that graduate students are still discriminated against compared to students who are planning to graduate?
A) It is wrong that people unconditionally think students who already graduated are discriminated against compared to students who are planning to graduate. Students who already graduated will not receive unfavorable treatment if they write in detail about their life after graduation. This can be preferable if they have more good activities than No Graduation students.
Q) Have you ever rejected a No Graduation student in the real hiring process? What is the best reason you think No Graduation students are not as good?
A) In conclusion, I haven’t rejected an applicant with the only reason being that he or she was a No Graduation student. Merely, as a student, in the process making a great effort to prepare to achieve their goal, if a No Graduation student cannot show any differentiation compared to regular graduates other than a simple piling up of qualifications, it cannot give a good impression to personnel managers. This is because companies want to get unique and confident employees.
Q) What is your advice to university students as a personnel manager?
A) I do not recommend delaying graduation. Owing to unavoidable circumstances, like preparing certificates or improving your TOEIC score, you can surely choose to delay graduation, but I think these things should be taken care of during your regular university time.
Interview with Sang-Heum Yoon, Professor, Business
Q) What is your opinion about students who are planning to delay graduation and what advice do you have for them?
A) At first, it is important to set a goal and have a specific action plan and time table. It is difficult to expect good results if you are thinking about saving time through No Graduation. Also, after graduation, you have to bring down your expectation level and consider setting a goal of getting employed at a small business. The more you spend time to prepare, the more you lose your confidence and you will frequently change your jobs because of low job satisfaction.
Q) Is there an advantage to being a No Graduation student over being a regular senior in the hiring process?
A) It is different in certain circumstances. It is an advantage for preparing to get a job for one more year if there is a specific goal, you clearly address your shortcomings, and participate in extra activities to overcome them. However, if you deal with an uncertain process and you do not prepare anything in your university life, there is no big merit, I think.
Q) What do you think about how to prevent this circumstance in companies and in people?
A) Students have to think about their shortcomings in getting a job as soon as they can. They need to be certain about graduation goals and discard vague expectations, “Que sera sera.” All students cannot have the same competitive edge, and also, there are many companies that have different sizes or workforces that can match each student. Students must be realistic about their position and sometimes need to take on drastic challenges without the consciousness of others. From the lower grades, you have to prepare a process to get a job in a calm and orderly manner through thinking seriously and pariticipating in activities of study groups. Universities have to consistently strengthen working support systems including a place for developing students’ capability for guiding them effectively.
Ultimately, the cause of this phenomenon is the unemployment crisis. The government, universities, and enterprises should make an effort to improve the present bleak situations by thinking about actual solutions like a rational policy about tuition fees and jobs for young people. As a society we also need to address our prejudices about those who cannot find jobs right away. In addition, No Graduation students need to spend their vacant time striving to achieve specific goals for improvement, and not simply escape through taking a leave of absence or graduation delay. We sincerely cheer those who make the hard decision to put their lives on hold in order to do the hard work that is necessary to make sure they are happy with their life after graduation.