Rising numbers of former soldiers who entered college with dreams of becoming government officials are stopping their studies midway and jumping ship to enter the business world, North Korean sources say.
“Half the former soldiers who enrolled in an agriculture college have left the school and are now pursuing business,” said a North Hamgyong Province-based source on September 3. “Most of them are earning money as taxi drivers [transporting people and goods].”
Former soldiers have traditionally asked for recommendations to attend college as college diplomas are required for applicants to become government officials.
But many soon realize the cold reality of the world after entering the schools, the source said, explaining that “they are poor and don’t have money, so they jump into business [to earn money].”
It was previously unusual for former soldiers to cancel their studies midway. This is because the opportunity to attend college is rare, and requires considerable family wealth and songbun (social status based on family political background and loyalty).
“Regular North Koreans know their place in society and try not to waste their time,” said the source. “There may be those who abandon their studies because they can’t afford it anymore, but there are other reasons too.”
Some were only thought to be attending college as a way to prevent themselves from being placed in a job away from their hometowns.
“Former soldiers don’t like being placed en masse in jobs that take them away from their hometowns,” a source in South Hamgyong Province added.
“They can return home if they attend college, so they sometimes apply to attend college with the intention of dropping out of class soon after.”
Daily NK reported on August 21 that the North Korean authorities were planning to increase production at the 4.25 Tobacco Factory (also called the Changpyong Farm) in Onsong County North Hamgyong Province, by placing a group of former soldiers there.
Former soldiers, however, appear to be trying to avoid such work placements.
There also seems to be a widening opinion that becoming a government official affords relatively fewer benefits these days, according to an additional source in North Hamgyong Province.
“One soldier who took an exam to get into a provincial college right before getting out of the military told me that he has a ‘lot of concerns’ after seeing other former soldiers earning money at the markets,” he said.
“It’s hard to become a government official and people believe it’s hard to make a living without taking bribes, so it’s changing people’s minds about that kind of future.”