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Seoul shaping up plan for ‘diplomat academy’

The government’s controversial plan to select diplomats through a state-managed postgraduate school instead of current written exams has been shaping up this week, as a related bill has been approved by a parliamentary subcommittee.

Under the bill approved by the National Assembly foreign affairs committee, up to 60 people will be entering the so-called “diplomat academy” each year to be trained as diplomats.

Under the plan, orchestrated by President Lee Myung-bak, the conventional way of recruiting diplomats through state-administrated exams will be scrapped by 2013, replaced by the one-year academy course envisioned to foster diplomats with diverse backgrounds.

While the president and his supporters claim such a recruitment model will help the government better equip itself with experts in a variety of fields, critics say such programs may only benefit the privileged such as the children of diplomats.

While being notorious for their difficulty ― requiring years of preparation and patience to pass ― the current written exams, dubbed “gosi” in Korean, are considered the best way to climb up the social ladder through fair competition.

The ruling Grand National Party, which supports the academy system, had initially claimed more than 80 students should be selected annually for the academy plan to eventually take over completely from the written exam system. South Korea selects some 40 new diplomats each year, meaning dozens of students will be left jobless after the training is over, something the government has yet to come up with a solution for.

Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan had told reporters last year that the ministry would “view the issue from all kinds of aspects to find the best system.”

“The national examination may have been the best way to pick officials in the past, but time now requires people who are capable in various different areas,” he said.

Established in 1968, the current written test system has often been criticized for failure to secure personnel diversity and properly test aspiring diplomats on their foreign language abilities.

Under the new system, applicants for the academy will get extra credit for being experts in specified areas such as trade, environment and international cooperation, and will also be tested in detail.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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