3. Strengthening the vertical governance of adult learning in Korea

Multiple levels of government have roles and responsibilities in the design and implementation of adult learning policies. Strong vertical governance arrangements are necessary to co-ordinate these roles and responsibilities across levels of government, so that adult learning policies can be implemented effectively and equitably.

Co-ordination and co-operation between national and subnational governments on adult learning policies increase the effectiveness of policy implementation by facilitating knowledge transfer, informing budget allocations, and building consensus and ownership for national adult learning reform efforts (OECD, 2013[1]).

Strong vertical governance arrangements are also necessary for equity reasons in order to reduce disparities in adult learning participation and outcomes across subnational areas (OECD, 2013[1]). The impact of the COVID-19 crisis across subnational areas has varied significantly across the country (OECD, 2020[2]). The national government, in co-ordination and co-operation with subnational governments, can support subnational governments that have low capacity to implement adult learning policies and thereby promote national coherence in adult learning policy and overall recovery across the country.

This chapter provides an overview of Korea’s vertical governance of adult learning policies and explores two key opportunities for improvement: 1) improving co-operation across levels of government in adult learning policies; and 2) supporting subnational governments to effectively implement adult learning policies. For each opportunity, the available data are analysed, relevant national and international policies and practices are discussed, and policy recommendations are provided.

The following section provides an overview of the different roles and responsibilities of various government actors in adult learning. Given that strong vertical governance arrangements matter for reducing regional disparities, this section also describes existing disparities across Korea in regards to the socio-economic context, adult learning participation and adult learning outcomes.

Korea has a nationally planned and subnationally executed system of adult learning governance. Decisions are taken at the ministry level and then executed by the implementation agencies of the relevant ministries and regional and local governments. Adult learning policies in Korea are mainly designed by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ministry of Employment and Labour (MoEL) (see Chapter 2). The MoE provides adult learning opportunities through its lifelong learning programmes that include formal adult education programmes (e.g. degree programmes) and non-formal adult education programmes (e.g. recreational programmes). The MoEL administers adult learning policies through its vocational education and training (VET) programmes, which can be formal and non-formal.

Korea’s adult learning system is complex, involving multiple actors at different levels of government. It has a two-tier subnational government system. The regional level consists of nine provinces (do) and six metropolitan cities (Gwangyeoksi), as well as Sejong Special Autonomous City1 and Seoul City (Teukbyeolsi), which have a special status. The local level includes municipalities, which can be cities (Si), counties (Gun) or autonomous districts (Gu) (Figure 3.1, Panel A) (OECD, 2016[3]). The average population size of a municipality is 233 827 inhabitants, which is significantly higher than the OECD average 9 693 (OECD, 2020[4]). Across government levels, most government officials (59%) work at the national level, with a lower share working at the subnational level (41%) (Figure 3.1, Panel B) (KOSIS, 2020[5]). While the relative share of subnational government officials has increased over the years in Korea, it is still relatively low compared to other unitary countries,2 such as Finland, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden, where the share of subnational government officials is above 70% (Charbit and Michalun, 2009[6]). This indicates that Korea is still relatively less decentralised than these countries.

The MoE offers lifelong learning programmes through a vertical governance structure consisting of administrative, implementation and co-ordination bodies at each level of government (Figure 3.2). The MoE works closely with its main administrative bodies, which are the regional and local offices of education, and local governments to oversee lifelong learning policies.

The National Institute for Lifelong Education (NILE) and the Regional Institutes for Lifelong Education are the main implementation bodies of the MoE for its lifelong learning programmes. They are responsible for managing the programmes, including the local lifelong learning centres and lifelong learning cities.3 Subnational governments implement lifelong learning policies themselves.

The co-ordination of lifelong learning policies takes place through bodies at each level of government. The National Lifelong Education Promotion Committee is the MoE’s main co-ordination body through which it engages relevant actors to regularly review lifelong learning policies. Topics discussed include the National Lifelong Learning Plan, the evaluation and reformation of the policy system promoting lifelong learning, and co-operation in lifelong learning policies. The committee develops ideas on these issues, and its advice should be taken into account by the MoE when drafting its five-year plan for lifelong learning. The committee is headed by the Minister of Education and is composed of vice ministers of relevant ministries and lifelong education experts selected by the minister. Experts on lifelong learning from academia and the head of NILE are also members. The Lifelong Education Act does not specify how often the committee should meet (OECD, 2020[7]).

Subnational governments are in charge of regional and local lifelong education promotion councils, which co-ordinate relevant actors at the subnational level. The regional councils are headed by the governor of the region (chairman) and the deputy superintendent of the regional office of education (vice chairman). Membership includes relevant government officials and lifelong education experts. The local councils are headed by the head of the local government, and membership includes representatives of local governments, local offices of education and lifelong education experts (Jong-Han Kim, 2019[8]; Hee-Soo Lee, 2019[9]).

The MoEL provides adult VET through a vertical governance structure consisting of administrative, implementation and co-ordination bodies at each level of government (Figure 3.3). The MoEL through its regional and local offices oversees adult VET policies across levels of government. The subnational offices of the MoEL operate job centres (101 regional job centres as of 2020) that supervise public and private VET providers and distribute funding through the Work-Study Dual System4 (to employers) and the National Tomorrow Learning Card (to individual beneficiaries) (see Chapter 5 for a description of this financial incentive) (Ministry of Employment and Labour, 2019[11]; Ministry of Employment and Labour, 2020[12]; Korea Employment Information Service, 2020[13]). There are also job centers for middle-aged people run by the Korea Labour Foundation (12 regional centres and 1 sectoral center), which provide training programmes for jobseekers and employed people, as well as programmes to support the school-to-job transfer in co-operation with affiliates of the MoEL and relevant local organisations.

The Human Resources Development Services of Korea (HRD Korea) and its regional branch offices implement the MoEL’s adult VET programmes. HRD Korea offices are responsible for supporting VET provided by employers through programmes such as the Local Job Creation Target Notice System, the Consortium for HRD Ability Magnified Programme5 (CHAMP), the Local-customised Job Creation Support Programme6 and the National Competence Standards (Ministry of Employment and Labour, 2017[14]; Ministry of Employment and Labour, 2018[15]). MoEL’s Korea Polytechnics, which are vocational schools, operate various specialised adult learning programmes for disadvantaged groups (e.g. women, middle-aged adults), as well as VET programmes in specific technology driven industries. Similarly, the MoEL’s Korea University of Technology and Education supports adult learning programmes through its three affiliates: 1) the Online Lifelong Education Institute runs the Smart Training Education Platform (STEP) and supports online adult VET programmes for all citizens; 2) the Human Resources Development Institute provides training courses for VET teachers; and 3) the Korean Skills Quality Authority supervises adult VET institutes and ensures that adult learning programmes are of good quality and aligned with labour market needs.

The co-ordination of adult VET policies takes place through bodies at each level of government. The National Council for Employment Policy and the Job Council are the main co-ordination bodies at the national level that engage relevant actors to regularly review adult VET policies. At the subnational level, regional labour-management committees and local labour and management committees are the main co-ordination bodies. Local labour-management committees consist of representatives from subnational governments, subnational offices of the MoEL, labour unions and other relevant stakeholders. Since 2008, most regions have replaced regional employment councils with regional labour-management committees. Regional skills councils and industrial skills councils are additional engagement bodies established by the MoEL to promote VET based on local needs in collaboration with regional governments, employers’ associations, labour unions and experts (see Chapter 4) (Gil-Sang Yoo, 2019[16]).

Korea has undergone a decentralisation process that has given subnational governments increased responsibility for policies such as adult learning. The decentralisation process in Korea has been relatively recent in comparison to other OECD countries, and was reintroduced in 1987 as Korea transitioned back to a democracy after 26 years of authoritarian rule (Figure 3.4). The Local Autonomy Act and the Local Finance Act (1988) laid the legal foundation for devolving more responsibilities to subnational governments. In 1991, subnational elections for the executive and legislative were introduced, and in 1995, fiscal resources started being transferred to subnational governments.

In the current Moon Jae-In administration, decentralisation is one of the Top “100 national tasks” in order “to promote well-balanced development across every region" (Goal IV), “to promote autonomy and decentralisation to realise grassroots democracy” (Strategy 1), and "to strengthen fiscal decentralisation for financial autonomy" (Task 75). The 100 national tasks programme includes measures to transfer functions of central government to local governments and to increase budgets allocated to local governments (OECD, 2018[18]). The main motivation behind the decentralisation efforts has been to reduce the current economic and social disparities across regions in Korea (see further below). These regional disparities are due to historic concentrated government investment in strategic regions such as Seoul, Incheon and Ulsan to facilitate the accessibility of human resources, material and infrastructure during the rapid economic development phase of the 1960s and 1970s, when regional economic balance was a lower priority (Garcilazo et al., 2019[19]; Lee, 2015[20]).

Although decentralisation or centralisation efforts can be effective or ineffective, depending on the context (Joumard and Kongsrud, 2003[22]), countries with strong local democracies in general have benefited from the decentralisation processes (Charbit and Michalun, 2009[6]). These benefits include tailoring policies to local contexts; making progress in policy innovation due to the wide range of approaches across subnational governments; managing a diverse society by giving groups a degree of self-rule, while maintaining the overall unity of the country; and creating balance by providing a countervailing force to the national government. However, the decentralisation process needs to be carefully managed to avoid risks such as challenges in meeting national macroeconomic goals, incoherent policies across the country, high transaction costs with a large number of government units involved, and not being able to take advantage of economies of scale (Charbit and Michalun, 2009[6]). Moreover, decentralisation can lead to greater disparities across regions, thus reinforcing pre-existing inequalities, if not accompanied with the reallocation of sufficient funds and institutional and technical support to match new responsibilities (Rodríguez-Pose and Gill, 2003[23]; Sánchez‐Reaza and Rodríguez‐Pose, 2002[24]). Given that further decentralisation is a priority for the Korean government, strong vertical governance arrangements in policies such as adult learning are key to raise benefits, minimise risks and reduce regional disparities.

Regions across Korea vary substantially in a variety of dimensions. As shown in Figure 3.5 and Table 3.1, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita varies greatly, with Daegu having a GDP per capita of USD 25 789, while Ulsan has a GDP per capita almost three times larger at USD 73 038. Overall, population and GDP are highly concentrated, as Seoul and its immediate surrounding area is inhabited by almost half of Korea’s population and accounts for around 40% of the national GDP (OECD, 2020[4]). Employment rates also vary across regions, between 63% in Busan and 73% in Jeju-do. The share of the labour force with a tertiary education varies greatly across regions, ranging between 28% in Jeollanam-do and 55% in Seoul, which reflects the concentration of universities and labour market opportunities for highly educated graduates in Seoul.

The level of disposable household income also differs across regions, from USD 18 424 in Jeollanam-do to USD 23 502 in Seoul. This variation has implications regarding the extent to which individual households can afford additional private expenditure on services such as adult learning. The number of research and development (R&D) personnel, which is often used as a proxy indicator to measure the demand of high level skills, varies across regions and is highest in Gyeonggi-do, which is the region surrounding Seoul that has a significant number of research institutes (OECD, 2020[4]). Vertical governance arrangements need to take into account these regional disparities so that policies such as those related to adult learning do not inadvertently reinforce these differences and benefit more advantaged regions.

Adult learning participation varies significantly across Korea (Figure 3.6). Based on the latest data from the Lifelong Learning Survey, the participation rate in Seoul and the other six metropolitan cities (43%) is similar to the participation rate in small and medium cities (42%), but significantly higher than the participation rate in villages (38%) (KOSIS, 2020[5]). Given that Korea’s urban population is unevenly concentred in a few major cities7 and unevenly scattered in a few regions, adult learning participation rates vary significantly across regions (OECD, 2012[26]). Improving governance arrangements across levels of government plays an important role in fostering equity in the access and outcomes of adult learning across the country, so that all adults, regardless of their location, have similar opportunities to access and benefit from adult learning.

This chapter presents two opportunities for improving the vertical governance of adult learning policies in Korea. Opportunity 1 examines how to strengthen co-operation in adult learning policies across levels of government and among subnational actors so that such policies are implemented effectively. Opportunity 2 examines how to support subnational governments, in particular those with low capacity, so that adult learning policies are implemented equitably across Korea.

Korea can strengthen vertical governance by:

  1. 1. Improving co-operation in adult learning policies across levels of government.

  2. 2. Supporting subnational governments to effectively implement adult learning policies.

This section provides an overview of the national and subnational actors in Korea, examines the co-operation mechanisms between them, and explores how co-operation could be improved, in particular through relevant co-ordination bodies. Relevant country examples and specific recommendations are also presented.

Strong co-operation across levels of governments in adult learning matters to improve participation, outcomes and cost-effectiveness (OECD, 2003[28]). Co-operation between the national government and subnational governments, which include 17 regional governments and 226 local governments, allows Korea to more effectively achieve national goals for adult learning and tailor adult learning policies to the subnational context (NILE, 2011[29]). Strengthening co-operation across levels of government is a priority for the current administration in order to foster inclusive growth (Kwon, 2019[30]; NILE, 2011[29]). In the context of COVID-19, stronger co-operation across levels of government is also critical to implement a co-ordinated and coherent approach to addressing the economic and social ramifications of the pandemic across subnational areas (OECD, 2020[2]).

The quality of co-operation across levels of government on a range of policies varies in Korea. According to the Inter-governmental Relationship Survey, fewer than 50% of government officials across national and regional levels think that the relationship across their two levels is either “very co-operative” or “somewhat co-operative" (Figure 3.7, Panel A). Similarly, fewer than 35% of civils servants across national and local levels think that the relationship across their two levels is either “very co-operative” or “somewhat co-operative" (Figure 3.7, Panel B). In both instances, regional and local government officials are less likely than national government officials to perceive the level of co-operation positively (Korea Institute of Public Administration, 2017[31]). During OECD missions to Korea, representatives confirmed these findings and expressed concerns that co-operation in policy making in the domain of adult learning is relatively low and needs to be improved (Korea, 2019[17]).

There are obstacles hindering vertical co-operation. Figure 3.8 features the perceived barriers to vertical co-operation across the different levels of government. Different interests across levels of government, lack of interaction, different political positions and financial constraints were perceived to be the main issues preventing effective national-regional and regional-local co-operation. During the OECD mission, experts in Korea expressed concerns that vertical co-operation in adult learning policies was hampered by different levels of government having diverging interests and priorities for adult learning policies. Other concerns included insufficient communication and dialogue about how adult learning policies should be designed and implemented to take local contexts into account and also be coherent with national objectives, a lack of clarity about respective roles and responsibilities in adult learning policies, and different perspectives on the necessary financial contributions from each level of government for adult learning policies (NILE, 2011[29]; Korea, 2019[17]). Such challenges in vertical governance can lead to the provision of adult learning programmes that do not satisfy the needs of the end users, an overlap in programmes provided by different actors, and the lack of financial resources for programmes that can benefit those in need (Korea, 2019[17]; NILE, 2011[29]).

Several mechanisms support co-operation between national and subnational governments. These mechanisms include co-ordinating bodies, legal mechanisms, performance measurement, contracts and (quasi-)integration mechanisms (Table 3.2) (Charbit and Michalun, 2009[6]). In Korea, these mechanisms exist to varying degrees in adult learning policies. However, more could be done to ensure that they are designed and used to effectively align interests, clarify respective roles and responsibilities, promote meaningful dialogue and communication, and foster transparency and trust across levels of government (Korea, 2019[17]; Charbit and Michalun, 2009[6]). In the following section, co-ordinating bodies and related legal mechanisms are discussed in greater detail, as performance measurements (Chapter 5), contracts, agreements and pacts (Chapter 2), and (quasi-) integration mechanisms (Opportunity 2 in this chapter) are discussed in other parts of this report.

Co-ordination bodies can play an important role in facilitating co-operation between national and subnational governments through facilitating knowledge transfer, identifying priorities, informing budget allocations and fostering consensus and ownership for national adult learning reforms. Such co-ordination bodies can also allow the national government to promote national coherence in adult learning policy, while taking into account specific subnational needs and encouraging innovative subnational initiatives (OECD, 2020[7]; Charbit and Michalun, 2009[6]). Across the OECD, co-ordinating bodies are the most frequently used instrument for co-ordinating policies across different levels of government (OECD, 2013[1]). Countries with well-developed co-ordination bodies, such as inter-governmental committees and regular formal meetings, have a comparative advantage for the introduction and implementation of future reforms (OECD, 2013[1]).

In Korea, there are co-ordination bodies between national and subnational governments in adult learning that come under the responsibility of both the MoE and MoEL (Table 3.3). While these bodies typically play a dual role in co-ordinating horizontally at the government level and vertically across levels of government, their horizontal co-ordination role is more well developed, and their vertical co-ordination role still needs to be strengthened.

On the MoE side, regional and local lifelong education promotion councils are the co-ordinating bodies that facilitate co-operation between national and subnational governments. They consist of up to 20 members, with government representatives and stakeholders tasked with reviewing the design and execution of subnational lifelong education promotion implementation plans at regional and local levels (National Law Information Center, 2020[32]). The specific roles and responsibilities of the regional and local councils are governed by subnational government ordinances and can therefore vary across subnational area.

On the MoEL side, the main co-ordination body between the national and subnational government are the 17 regional skills councils (RSCs). The co-chairs of each RSC are the representatives of the regional industrial communities and the deputy heads of the regional governments. RSC members include about 30 stakeholders from unions and employers' associations, regional offices of education, universities, and experts on employment and human resource development issues. Each RSC also has a plenary committee and various autonomously operated sub-committees and working-level committees that discuss detailed matters at the project level for the region. Each of these committees also has its own staff who conduct skills supply and demand surveys, establish regional human resources development plans, devise training programmes that meet regional demands, and provide feedback to the national government. Other co-ordination bodies include the Job Council and its subnational offices and the labour-management committees that are involved in adult learning policy co-ordination across levels of government.

The existence of co-ordination bodies by itself, however, does not guarantee effective vertical co-operation in adult learning policies. Three factors in particular determine the effectiveness of co-ordination bodies: 1) a legal mandate that clarifies and strengthens their role; 2) the active participation of members; and 3) sufficient financial and human resources to allow them to fulfil their functions. Each of these three factors need be further strengthened in Korea to raise the effectiveness of its co-ordination bodies (Hee-Soo Lee, 2019[9]; Jong-Han Kim, 2019[8]; Korea, 2019[17]).

A legal mandate should clarify and strengthen the role of co-ordination bodies. While the current law elaborates on the roles and responsibilities for horizontal co-ordination, it does not sufficiently clarify the roles and responsibilities for vertical co-ordination.

This means that, in practice, the communication between national and subnational co-ordination bodies is limited. For example, the National Lifelong Education Promotion Committee and subnational lifelong education councils mostly work only at their own government level (Hee-Soo Lee, 2019[9]). Furthermore, the National Lifelong Education Promotion Committee is not legally required to solicit input from subnational lifelong education promotion councils when reviewing the National Lifelong Education Promotion Framework Plan (National Law Information Center, 2020[32]). This is a significant shortcoming, as the five-year National Lifelong Education Promotion Framework Plan is the most important national adult learning policy document given that it outlines the overall vision for adult learning, as well as the mid- and long-term policy objectives, strategy, budget, infrastructure needs, policy evaluation approach, and specific target groups. Without effective co-ordination between national and subnational levels through these bodies, the design and implementation of the national plan does not benefit from input on the diverse contexts, challenges and policy lessons learned at the subnational level. The ensuing risk is that the national plan does not sufficiently address regional disparities in adult learning participation and outcomes.

An amendment to the Lifelong Education Act governing the National Lifelong Education Promotion Committee and the subnational ordinances governing the subnational lifelong education councils should clarify and legally require these bodies to co-ordinate with one another, in particular on the development of the National Lifelong Education Promotion Framework Plan. Korea could consider the example of the State-Regions Conference in Italy, where the co-ordination body between national and subnational governments is legally required to review any laws and legislative decrees or government regulations that have implications for various levels of government (Box 3.2) (State-Regions Conference, 2020[33]).

The participation of co-ordination body members also needs to improve through more flexible meeting arrangements. The active participation of members is essential for co-ordination bodies to deliberate and make decisions together on adult learning policy issues. The main constraint of the active participation of members is a lack of time and availability to meet. This constraint is often more pronounced when the co-ordination body requires the presence of senior government officials in order to convene.

For example, the chairman of the regional lifelong education promotion council is by law the head of the regional government. However, given their busy schedule it often becomes difficult to find the time to convene the council, and even when convened the time for discussion and making decisions is often limited. This means that the council in most regions only convenes once a year, that discussions are often rushed or limited, and that important decisions are sometimes delayed or not taken. This inhibits the ability of the councils to function effectively and to fulfil their co-ordination role (NILE, 2011[29]).

A possible solution to this issue would be to either have the head of the regional government represented by a lower ranking official (e.g. deputy head) or to give the vice-chairman, who is a representative of the regional MoE office, more authority to convene the council and make decisions. This could make it possible to convene more frequently, discuss more comprehensively and make relevant decisions (NILE, 2011[29]).

Co-ordination body members could also form smaller working groups on specific policy issues. Such working groups could meet more frequently, discuss relevant policy issues in advance, prepare the substantive input for the main council meetings, and follow up on specific decisions. Smaller working groups on specific issues already exist in the RSCs, where stakeholders can also participate and share their perspectives. The creation of working groups at the regional level for regional and local lifelong education promotion councils would require revising the regional ordinances that govern the operation of the regional councils. Currently, only in three regions (Seoul, Geyongnam and Jeju) do ordinances permit the establishment of sectoral working groups when needed (National Law Information Center, 2020[32]). Korea could consider the example of the Council of Australian Government Skills Council, which is the main vertical co-ordination body on skills in Australia. The Skills Council allows its members to have varying degrees of seniority, participate virtually, and form working groups to meet more frequently as needed (Box 3.2).

Co-ordination bodies require sufficient human and financial resources to fulfil their functions effectively. In contrast to co-ordination bodies at the national level, most co-ordination bodies at the subnational level (e.g. lifelong education promotion councils) lack sufficient human resources due to not having a permanent secretariat. This is makes it difficult for them to meet more than once a year (Korea, 2019[17]), as preparing, managing and following-up on meetings require staff who can fulfil all related tasks. The lack of dedicated staff in engagement bodies restricts the capacity required to play an effective co-ordination role (NILE, 2011[29]; Jong-Han Kim, 2019[8]). It also limits the input that subnational co-ordination bodies, such as the subnational lifelong education promotion councils, can provide to inform important national adult learning policy documents (e.g. the National Lifelong Education Promotion Framework Plan).

The lack of sufficient financial resources is another obstacle for co-ordination bodies to function effectively. Convening members, preparing meeting documents, booking meeting venues, following up on and implementing decisions made during meetings require funding. Due to limited financial resources, council members are not always compensated for their participation in meetings. For example, the regional ordinances of some provinces, such as Daegu and Daejeon, do not yet allow regional lifelong education promotion councils to provide financial compensation to members for participating in meetings. Having to cover the cost of participating in a meeting personally can be an obstacle for the regular participation of members, and thus inhibits the effective functioning of the co-ordination body.

During the OECD mission to Korea, representatives highlighted the existing good practice of a well-resourced and well-functioning co-ordination body, the regional skills council in Busan (Korea, 2019[17]). Busan’s RSC has a permanent secretariat of 12 full-time staff and an annual budget of USD 1.2 million. With these resources it has been able to play an active role in co-ordinating adult learning policies through the in-depth preparation and follow-up of meetings, and the continuous engagement of regional actors (Jong-Han Kim, 2019[8]) (Box 3.1). Across all RSCs there are over 10 staff members on average who are divided into two to three teams to work on different different tasks.

Equipping co-ordination bodies, especially at subnational levels, with sufficient human and financial resources will be important to raise their effectiveness in co-ordinating across governments. Given that co-ordination bodies at the subnational level are typically established and funded by the relevant subnational government, the vast differences in the overall available resources of subnational governments for adult learning (see Chapter 5) should be considered. The national government should provide additional resources to support subnational co-ordination bodies, which receive few resources from their subnational governments. Another cost-effective approach would be for other relevant adult learning government institutions, such as NILE and the Regional Institutes for Lifelong Education, to host the secretariats of the co-ordination bodies (Korea, 2019[17]). This would mean that staff members from NILE and the Regional Institutes for Lifelong Education could fulfil the functions of the secretariat of the co-ordination bodies in preparing documents, inviting members, booking venues, etc. The office meeting rooms belonging to NILE and the Regional Institutes for Lifelong Education could also be used as venues for co-ordination body meetings. Besides the cost savings, this approach would facilitate collaboration and information flow between NILE, the Regional Institutes for Lifelong Education and co-ordination bodies (NARS, 2018[34]).

In Germany, the Kultusministerkonferenz is a co-ordination body between the national and subnational governments on education and cultural issues. It includes representatives responsible for education and cultural policies from the federal and state governments. The body convenes about four times year to exchange information, network and agree upon common policies. The body receives around EUR 50 million annual funding from participating members. A permanent secretariat of around 200 staff members supports the various committees and commissions of the body and is responsible for implementing and evaluating the decisions taken by the body (Box 3.2).

This section provides an overview of the capacity of subnational government officials to implement adult learning policies. It then examines how the capacity of subnational government officials could be raised by improving staff mobility policies, increasing training provision and supporting co-operation across subnational governments. Relevant country examples and specific recommendations are also presented.

The capacity of subnational government officials matters for implementing adult learning policies. Capacity refers to the ability of subnational government officials to carry out their responsibilities. This includes the human and financial resources to carry out strategic planning and project and budget management, as well as the design and implementation of projects tailored to local needs (OECD, 2009[38]).

Ensuring capacity across subnational government officials is important for equity reasons so that policies are implemented effectively and efficiently across regions (Charbit and Michalun, 2009[6]). As Korea aims to become more decentralised and reduce regional imbalances (OECD, 2018[18]) it will be essential to consider how to raise the capacity of government officials at the subnational level and across regions. The financial resources of subnational governments are extensively discussed in Chapter 5, so this section covers the issue of human resources.

Sufficient human resources in subnational governments are necessary to effectively implement policies at the subnational level, as government officials play a critical role in designing, implementing and evaluating adult learning policies. However, the availability of human resources differs vastly across regional and local governments. The higher the workload a government official faces, the more challenging it becomes to effectively carry out their responsibilities. At the regional level, the average number of residents per government official ranges between 80 (Gangwon-do) and 227 (Gyeonggi-do) (Figure 3.9, Panel A). At the local level, the gap is even wider, ranging between 105 (Jeollanam-do) and 353 (Daejeon) (KOSIS, 2020[5]). The workload of government officials in regions and municipalities with a higher resident per government official ratio, all other factors being equal, is likely to be higher.

The characteristics of available government officials also matters. Education level, as a proxy for skill level, can indicate whether overall skill levels among government officials vary significantly across regions. In Korea, the share of government officials with a tertiary education degree does vary significantly across regions, from 71% in Seoul to 87% in Sejong (Figure 3.9, Panel B). Government officials with sufficiently high skills (e.g. the skills to develop policies, engage stakeholders, manage networks, and commission and contract services) are necessary for effective policy implementation (OECD, 2017[39]). Moreover, the quality of government officials’ work, measured by the number of awards given in recognition of their performance, varies across regions, ranging from 8% of officials in Jeju-do to 23% in Gangwon-do (KOSIS, 2020[5]).

In Korea, human resource constraints are often mentioned as the main obstacle for government officials to effectively implement policies, such as adult learning. The capacity of subnational governments should therefore be raised, particularly in regions and municipalities with lower capacities.

The three main factors affecting the capacity of subnational government officials to implement adult learning policies examined in this chapter are: 1) internal and external staff mobility policies; 2) staff training opportunities; and 3) co-operation arrangements across subnational governments. Each of these factors will be discussed in detail. The absolute number of available staff, especially in low capacity subnational governments, is also an important factor, but as this is largely determined by available financial resources it is discussed in Chapter 5.

Government officials are required to participate in mandatory internal mobility schemes. These are on a rotation basis and the tenure in one post lasts on average two to three years. This means that at any given moment, an average of 88% of government officials have been in their current position less than three years (Figure 3.10, Panel A). For subnational government officials this short tenure negatively impacts the continuity of projects and the capacity to implement adult learning policies, as progress made under one official might be halted when their successor takes over (Gil-Sang Yoo, 2019[16]). A newly arriving government official may also lack the relevant substantive knowledge about the policy domain to which they have been assigned. By the time they familiarise themselves sufficiently with the new policy domain and have established relationships with local actors, they may already need to prepare for transfer to another post.

In a survey of government officials, the main obstacle (35%) to gaining expertise in a particular field was reported as the frequency of duty rotation (Figure 3.10, Panel B). Other related obstacles reported were the allocation of personnel without regard for educational background or aptitude (13%), the lack of systematisation and rationalisation of human resource management (6%), and limitations of the recruitment process in hiring personnel with expertise (5%).

Government officials’ expertise could be enhanced through expanded tenure in positions. During the OECD mission to Korea it was highlighted that rotation practices, insofar as possible, are implemented in such a way as to prevent everyone in one team leaving at the same time, with at least one person in the team remaining longer to assist the next person. These efforts can support policy continuity. However, in practice effective transitions often do not happen. The level of responsibility and the skills between the person leaving and the person arriving as replacement are often quite different. While a general orientation is given to new arrivals to brief them on their responsibilities and the relevant policies, specific guidance on the replacement’s role and concrete tasks, as well as on the specific assigned policy domain, is frequently lacking (Korea, 2019[17]).

To mitigate this issue, it may be worthwhile enforcing at least some overlap of staff at the same level with a longer retention period, so that the incoming government official is supported during the transition period. This would be particularly relevant for subnational governments with low capacity, where there are already significant human resource constraints and where it is important to provide the necessary support for incoming government officials to be able to effectively fulfil their roles and responsibilities as quickly as possible.

Based on OECD experience, effective posting periods for government officials are between three to five years, which helps to minimise the potential instability caused by frequent rotations and maximises the benefits of providing enough time for gaining expertise (OECD, 2011[41]). Korea should thus consider increasing the number of years for which public servants are posted in a given position. Government officials reported in a survey that having a longer tenure in a position was the second most important measure, after training, for raising their expertise (Figure 3.12).

External mobility schemes should also be improved. Existing external mobility schemes include staff exchanges and secondments vertically across levels of government and horizontally at the same government level (i.e. national, regional, local). In OECD countries, staff exchanges and secondments have proven to be an effective tool to make hard-to-find skills available and to address skills gaps, even if temporarily, across the whole government, and to provide government officials with professional development and mobility opportunities to raise their expertise (OECD, 2017[39]).

In Korea, staff exchanges and secondments occur outside the official’s home institution and are on a voluntary basis (Ministry of Personnel Management, 2020[42]), in contrast to the internal mobility schemes. It is therefore possible for participating individuals to apply for external positions that allow them to build up their expertise, rather than be posted to a position of low interest or relevance. Staff exchanges and secondments also require the mutual agreement of sending and receiving institutions in terms of the timing, duration and participating staff profile, which makes it possible to arrange it to benefit all parties and avoids causing significant human resource gaps that jeopardise policy implementation (Ministry of Personnel Management, 2020[42]).

In the context of adult learning policies, staff exchanges and secondments would allow participants to understand how adult learning policies are designed and co-ordinated at different levels of government or in other government institutions at their own level. Participating individuals are offered incentives to participate in such an exchange, for example by guaranteeing their return to their position in their home institution, by giving them preferential treatment for a desired position or promotion upon return, by considering their participation as a positive factor in job performance evaluation, and by providing them with an allowance payment and housing subsidies (Ministry of Personnel Management, 2020[42]).

However, despite the numerous benefits of such external mobility schemes, the total number of staff participating is still relatively low for both regional and local government officials, and has not significantly changed in the past 20 years (Figure 3.11, Panel A). Only a small share of government officials at the regional (2%) and local level (3%) participated in 2018 (KOSIS, 2020[5]). For regional government officials, most join local governments, while a smaller number join regional and national governments. Most local government officials join the regional government, while others join other local governments and very few join the national government.

In a recent survey of government officials across levels of governments, 95% of regional government officials and 92% of local government officials responded that staff exchanges and secondments across regional and local governments should be expanded (Korea Institute of Public Administration, 2017[31]). Given the disparities in the number and quality of staff across subnational governments, staff exchanges and secondments should be further expanded to particularly support subnational governments with low capacities.

Across OECD countries, staff exchanges are commonly organised to ensure that the civil service effectively reallocates human resources to emerging needs, and most OECD countries are planning to increase mobility schemes. Common policy levers to increase participation in mobility schemes include providing incentives and promoting the recognition of mobility benefits (OECD, 2017[39]).

One of the challenges of expanding such external mobility schemes in Korea has been finding a match between the supply and demand of institutions and staff members. Matching processes could be enhanced through online platforms. For example, in Flanders the mobility of government officials across the whole government has been increased through Radar, an online platform that facilitates the supply and demand matching process. Canada has a similar platform called Jobs Marketplace, which connects government officials across government for work placement opportunities (OECD, 2017[39]) (Box 3.4).

Training for subnational government officials could increase their expertise in implementing adult learning policies. An adequate level of expertise for implementing adult learning policies among subnational government officials is crucial as they are the main actors executing adult learning policies. A lack of expertise at subnational levels makes the successful implementation of national adult learning policies more difficult. Around 39% of government officials perceive training to be the most important way of strengthening their expertise (Figure 3.12). Training could raise the expertise of subnational officials to design, propose, implement, monitor and evaluate subnational adult learning policies. Expertise in effectively applying for national grant funding (see Chapter 5) and using available national and subnational funding sources for adult learning policies could also be raised through training.

There are various training opportunities for government officials. The Ministry of Personnel Management is responsible for overseeing training opportunities across the government and develops the overarching human resource development (HRD) strategy, while each ministry develops its own organisational training plan based on research and surveys on HRD needs. Each ministry allows all government officials to draft an annual self-development plan based on the organisational training plan. Individuals set up annual development objectives that are harmonised with individual career goals and organisational targets and priorities. Government officials can participate in offline or online programmes from diverse training institutes, obtain degrees or certificates, join academic or professional seminars, organise or join study groups, and read work-related books. The ministry monitors each individuals’ training twice a year, and performance is reflected in promotion (OECD, 2017[39]). Each government official from grades 9 (lower ranking) to 4 (higher ranking) is required to participate in at least 100 hours of training per year. Overseas long-term training (six months to two years) or short-term training (two to three months) is also sometimes possible (Ministry of Personnel Management, n.d.[43])

The MoEL provides training programmes for government officials in subnational governments through the Regional Employment Academy (Box 3.3) and the Korea Employment and Labour Training Institute. The Academy provides training on using statistics for policy, accessing government online systems, and implementing policies, such as those related to adult VET. (Job Council, 2019[44]). The Institute provides training on employment and labour policies, labour-management relations, adult VET provision, monitoring and evaluation, and the general capacities required for government officials.

Korea should consider improving training for subnational government officials by expanding the adult learning relevant training options and making them accessible across the whole country. It should also improve the modalities of training to make it more practical for participants and to allow participants to apply their learning to specific adult learning projects. Korea could consider the example in Germany, where the federal government provides government officials in local districts and municipalities training on managing and monitoring adult learning programmes through the Lernen vor Ort programme (Box 3.4).

The Seoul Metropolitan Institute for Lifelong Education (SMILE) has developed a quality assurance manual for lifelong learning programmes. This manual is used by consultants, consisting of professors and education experts, who meet with local government officials and other actors to provide consulting services and jointly identify local needs, analyse socio-economic conditions in each local area (e.g. demographic trends, industries), and provide guidance on possible lifelong learning (Seoul Metropolitan Institute for Lifelong Education, 2018[45]). SMILE also offers a follow-up service one year after training completion to monitor progress and provide further recommendations. As of 2018, 44 local governments and public lifelong education centres had participated in the project (Seoul Metropolitan Institute for Lifelong Education, 2018[45]) (Box 3.3). While this is a good example of raising the expertise of subnational government officials, many local governments are not yet able to benefit from such a service. It would be worthwhile to either broaden this service to serve more local governments or replicate it in other parts of Korea. This could be a complementary measure to expanding adult learning relevant training options for subnational government officials, and would require increasing co-operation agreements across local governments (see next section) and providing sufficient funding (see Chapter 5), which both are constraining factors.

Given that there are significant human resource constraints across subnational governments, co-operation arrangements could help raise their collective capacity to implement adult learning policies. Experience across the OECD shows a number of benefits to subnational co-operation. When subnational governments co-operate they benefit from economies of scale, which reduces the administrative cost and inefficiencies of implementing policies. In the context of constrained human resources, this makes it possible to implement policies that otherwise would not have been feasible or that would have been of lower quality. Co-operation across subnational governments allows them to exchange best practices and learn from each other (Charbit and Michalun, 2009[6]; OECD, 2020[7]), which can raise the capacity of government staff (similar to the mobility schemes discussed above) and improve policy implementation. During periods of tight public budgets due to increased expenditure on policies addressing the immediate and longer-term impacts of COVID-19, greater co-operation across subnational governments is necessary to minimise competition for resources, foster joint efforts and promote a coherent approach (OECD, 2020[2]).

At the same time, co-operation processes need to be managed carefully so that co-operation arrangements between two or more subnational governments do not unnecessarily limit the flexibility and responsiveness of implemented policies to changing conditions, which may differ across local levels (OECD, 2009[38]; Ministry of Interior and Safety, 2020[46]).

In Korea, there are a number of co-operation initiatives across subnational governments. The Ministry of Interior and Safety (MoIS) is actively promoting co-operation among subnational governments to improve service delivery. This has been undertaken through four formal mechanisms: 1) a memorandum of understanding that allows subnational governments to implement co-operation projects and settle disagreements with one another; 2) financial incentives for transferring administrative functions from low capacity subnational governments to high capacity subnational governments in specific policy areas8; 3) administrative councils to support consultation between subnational governments; and 4) subnational government associations to undertake large-scale and long-term projects between subnational governments (Table 3.4) (Ministry of Interior and Safety, 2020[46]).

In comparison to other policy domains, co-operation between subnational governments in the area of adult learning has been limited. While policies in domains such as transportation, waste disposal and water management cannot be easily undertaken in isolation due to the need to share infrastructure and costs across neighbouring local governments, this is less the case in the area of adult learning. It is possible for a subnational government to implement adult learning policies without such co-operation, but the cost of independent action can be smaller scale programmes. There have been some promising MoE and MoEL initiatives to foster co-operation between subnational governments in adult learning policies.

The MoE supports the Korean Association of Lifelong Learning Cities, which is a network of local governments that have officially been designated lifelong learning cities based on their efforts in adult learning policies (OECD, 2020[7]). Through this network, member cities can exchange their experience and acknowledge and award best practices. The association also provides financial incentives to selected local governments to award their efforts to provide customised lifelong learning opportunities. While this network makes an important contribution to facilitating information sharing among local governments, only cities designated as lifelong learning cities participate, and the network does not involve the joint implementation of adult learning policies between subnational governments.

The MoEL introduced the Employment Crisis Pre-emptive Response Package, which financially supports regional-local consortiums of governments to implement policies that raise employment (Ministry of Employment and Labour, 2020[12]). The package gives autonomy to subnational governments in designing their own programmes and choosing their target groups and delivery system. Financial incentives (approximately USD 2-16 million) are granted for five years to selected consortiums who have successfully designed mid- to long-term measures to promote employment. The incentives can be used to provide technical consulting, VET and career counselling, improve working conditions, and provide entrepreneurial support. The main criteria for selection is proposing well-designed mid- to long-term measures to support employment corresponding to local needs. As of 2020, five regional-local consortiums have been selected (Ministry of Employment and Labour, 2020[12]). Other MoEL programmes for supporting subnational governments include the Regional/Industrial Specific Human Resource Development Project, which provides funding to selected subnational governments to implement programmes on VET, job placement and business support; and the Regional Innovation Project, which supports regional job creation programmes that especially target disadvantaged groups.

There have been some common challenges in establishing and expanding co-operation arrangements between subnational governments across a variety of policies: 1) insufficient financial co-operation incentives, which are considered too short term and project-based rather than long term and sustainable; 2) a lack of awareness of the benefits of co-operation among subnational government heads and officials, who are concerned about giving up control and not being able to take sole credit for policies implemented with other subnational governments; and 3) stakeholders being engaged too late and not being provided with enough information about the rationale and details of the proposed co-operation, and thus not supporting the co-operation arrangement (KALGS, 2008[48]; Korea, 2019[17]).

Even successfully established co-operation arrangements often fail, for reasons such as financial loss (i.e. the co-operation arrangement does not fully cover the cost of implemented policy), lack of support from the head of the local government, unexpected disruption or problem, concern about reduced level of influence and authority, and a preference to pursue own solution (Figure 3.13) (KALGS, 2008[48]).

To further support co-operation in adult learning across subnational governments, the national government should raise financial incentives and particularly favour co-operation agreements that are long term and sustainable (for more on funding, see Chapter 5). The amount should be high enough to allow subnational governments to implement the proposed policy without incurring financial losses, and the duration should be sufficient to allow subnational governments to find more sustainable funding sources, such as stakeholders. Stakeholders should be engaged early on in the co-operation negotiations to secure their support in the policy implementation and to contribute their expertise and funding.

Awareness of the importance and benefits of subnational co-operation among subnational government heads and across subnational governments should be raised. Existing networks such as the Korean Association of Lifelong Learning Cities can play an awareness-raising role, but the outreach should be widened to also raise awareness in cities not yet officially designated as lifelong learning cities.

Korea could consider the Lernen vor Ort programme in Germany, where the federal government financially supports regional networks with the objective that regions will find their own sustainable funding solutions with stakeholders. In France, a new category of agencies (Établissements publics de coopération intercommunale) was created to help strengthen inter-municipal co-operation. A commission made up of representatives from government and stakeholders was also established to oversee co-operation projects from beginning to end (Box 3.4).


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← 1. Sejong Special Autonomous City was founded as Korea's new administrative city, with a goal to achieve more balanced national development by moving administrative functions out of Seoul (OECD, 2018[18]).

← 2. A unitary country, such as Korea, is a country governed as a single power in which the national government is supreme and sovereignty is not shared. This is in contrast with a federal country, where sovereignty is shared between the federal government and self-governing regional entities, which often have their own constitution, parliament and government (OECD, 2019[52]).

← 3. NILE is designated by the MoE as the acting body in carrying out the lifelong learning projects set by the ministry, including the Lifelong Learning City programme, lifelong learning accounts and lifelong learning vouchers.

← 4. Work-Study Dual System (MoEL) provides on-site vocational training through partnerships between academia and industries.

← 5. The Consortium for HRD Ability Magnified Programme (CHAMP) consists of small and medium-sized enterprises that provide vocational training to their employees through joint training centres. They can receive financial support from the government (Ministry of Employment and Labour, 2017[14]).

← 6. The Local-customised Job Creation Support Programme grants national government funding to selected subnationally designed projects facilitate employment, job creation, job quality improvement and human resource development reflecting local industrial needs.

← 7. Seoul, Incheon, Daejeon, Daegu and Busan represent 72% of the urban population and 62% of Korea’s total population. In addition, the cities of Ulsan, Gwangju, Cheonan, Cheongju, Pohang, Jeonju and Changwon represent 14% of the urban population and 12% of the total population in Korea (OECD, 2012[26]).

← 8. Between 1995 and 2015 there have been 32 instances of transferring administrative functions across subnational governments. When two subnational governments agree upon a transfer of administrative functions (e.g. food waste disposal, sewage system), then the subnational government that transfers the functions partially covers the cost for the other subnational government to implement the administrative functions.

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