If it is possible, things must be getting worse in North Korea. The government has ordered the shutdown of the Universities for 10 months. All students, except those about to graduate and foreign students, will report to work duty on construction and agricultural projects throughout the country.
North Korea is always on the edge of a famine so this might be evidence that Kim Jong-il is trying to maximize the nation’s labor pool for immediate needs.
As the government prepares for the transfer of power to Kim’s son, many construction projects have been planned for completion by 2012. That year is supposed to “open the gate to a great, prosperous and powerful nation.” The North Korean regime may also have realized that without extra help it could not deliver on those promises.
Others feel that Kim is shutting the universities down to forestall uprisings like the “Arab spring.” The universities would be a prime area for protests that could spread to larger demonstrations across the country. The people are so depressed and desperate that the release of a little dissent could explode into mass protests quickly.
In the long run, shutting down the universities for a year hurts the economy worse than having the students work. It delays the entrance of trained professionals into an economy that needs specialist and a kick into the twenty-first century. As it stands now, Kim is trading brain power for calluses.
Update: The original title incorrectly referred to South Korea instead of North Korea.