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Education minister nominee vows expansion of support for higher education

SEOUL, Feb. 28 — The nominee to lead South Korea's education policy said Thursday he will expand financial investment in higher education and nurture vocational high schools as part of an effort to enhance the quality of education and to promote talent in diverse fields.

"Within the five years of President Park Geun-hye's term, I will expand the investment in higher education to have it reach 1 percent of the gross domestic product," Seo Nam-soo said during a parliamentary confirmation hearing.

"It would enable us to improve the quality of the education. In particular, I will put focus on nurturing specialized schools and local ones," he added.

Seo, 61, was tapped earlier this month to become the first education minister for the newly inaugurated President.

In South Korea, all Cabinet members must undergo confirmation hearings, though parliamentary approval is not required for their appointment. The National Assembly simply expresses its consent or opposition in a report.

While pushing to halve college tuition fees and build more dormitories to share students' financial burdens, Seo also vowed to come up with a better college evaluation system and encourage universities' restructuring efforts.

There have been growing calls from the public on the government to come up with measures to lighten the load, as students and their parents — in the country of high education fever — are suffering from a double whammy of higher tuition fees and living expenses. The average tuition of the country's four-year private universities reached 7.38 million won (US$ 6,773) per year in 2012, the second highest among the OECD member countries following the United States.

"My priority will also be promoting 'meister' high schools in cooperation with industry circles, through which high school graduates can enjoy the chance to work while studying," he added.

Launched by former President Lee Myung-bak's administration in 2010 in an effort to produce a skilled workforce, the state-funded vocational schools aim to give students technical education and apprenticeship opportunities so that they can develop expertise in particular fields, including shipbuilding, mechanical engineering, semiconductors and medical equipment. Currently, the country has a total of 28 such schools.

If appointed, Seo will be the country's first man to hold the country's top education post as a professional bureaucrat with decades of experience in the field.

Majoring in philosophy at Seoul National University, he began civil service in 1979 and had since served major posts in the education ministry and in relevant government bodies.

After working as the vice education minister from 2007-2008 under late former President Roh Moo-hyun, he left the government and has joined several universities as a professor.

He currently heads Uiduk University, located in the southern city of Gyeongju, after taking the post last year.(PNA/Yonhap)

LOR/JNC

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