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PhD Employment in South Korea

E. Jardin & C. Schoch

The “Land of the Morning Calm” now trains almost as many PhDs as France does.  Are the disciplines structured in the same way? And what happens to PhDs once they finish their degree?

According to Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI) statistics, 9,316 students in Korea graduated with a PhD (including 1,320 in medicine) in 2006.  In 1997, there were about 5,000 of them.  Aside from medical degrees, engineering sciences account for 51% of them (2,618) followed by the so-called hard sciences (1,454).  A huge figure? If you look at OECD figures for all degree levels, Korea in any event trains a large number of engineers and “hard” scientists, which represent 40% of all degrees awarded.

How do they enter the Korean job market? Science and technology careers represent 15% of the total jobs in Korea.  What explains this imbalance, the largest among OECD countries, between those trained and those employed in this area? It is due to an evaporation of young degree holders as a result of the still prevalent phenomenon of brain drain in Korea despite the country's level of development.  

A quarter of HSS PhDs unemployed
Still according to KEDI figures, in the field of human and social sciences (HSS), there is a considerable number of degree holders in literature (737), way ahead of the economists (125)… which is not without consequence on professional integration for PhDs. In fact, a survey conducted in 2006 by the Korean Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training (KRIVET) among 728 degree holders between August 2004 to February 2005 tells us that over a quarter of the PhDs in European literature, language and culture are jobless, the highest unemployment rate of all PhDs.  Like the situation in France, professional integration varies considerably according to discipline.  In Korea, it's better to hold a PhD in electronics and communication than a PhD in mathematics.

Where do PhDs find work?
Still according to KRIVET, 43.1% of the PhDs interviewed say they work in a public or private educational institution, 23.8% in a company, 21.4% for the government.  The remaining 11.7%, includes PhDs who have started their own company (3.8%) or who work in non-governmental organizations (1.5%). So PhDs head massively towards academia, business being a second career choice.  In fact, despite less attractive salaries, the academic world provides PhDs with both social prestige and job security.

Satisfied, ladies?
Although PhDs declare themselves satisfied on the whole with their working conditions, particularly as regards "the sense of contributing to improving society" and "autonomy on the job," according to another KRIVET survey, it also revealed that women PhDs are, for all items, less satisfied than men. Too demanding? Perhaps instead victims of a still chauvinistic society...

- JIN Mi-suk, CHANG Chang-won, YOON Hyung-han, KIM Na-ra, "Report on Employment in 2006, survey on the hiring of PhD and Master's holders," 2006, KRIVET (in Korean).  The website of Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training, KRIVET http://www.krivet.co
-The Korean Educational Development Institute, KEDI http://eng.kedi.re.kr/