[OUTLOOK]Universities Must Have Autonomy

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[OUTLOOK]Universities Must Have Autonomy

Student protests against tuition raises have become a chronic problem at universities that repeats every year. As if following a set pattern, students first take over the university president's office, and then engage in a tug-of-war to negotiate with the university authorities to cut back on planned increases.

Universities are struggling to improve the quality of higher learning under substandard conditions. College admission corruption cases often occur and people are arrested almost every year. The crippled state of public education is everyone's concern; parents desperately claim they have no choice but to emigrate to provide better education for their children. High school students scoff at the value of school education, saying there is virtually nothing to learn in classrooms, and they turn to private tutoring lessons instead.

Negotiating with students over school tuition fees has become a national pastime. The constantly changing policies on college admissions bewilder teachers, students, and parents, and the cutthroat competition to enter college forces people to abandon their dignity and even their reason. More and more people are choosing to emigrate rather than remain in this country and subject their children to distressing educational conditions.

I do not wish to talk about who is to blame. Education has become such a grave and urgent problem that it is more important for us to pool our wisdom to search for a solution. As the president of a university, I cannot help feeling responsible and attempt to find some answers.

The most important aspect of college management is the ability to demonstrate the college's unique characteristics. This is the only way for a university to survive and become a winner in this age of global competition. The life of a university depends on conducting creative research and fostering outstanding personnel. Each university tries to serve society and stand at the vanguard of the times based on its own educational ideals and academic climate. Securing healthy financial resources is imperative to achieve these goals.

The faculty members are those who cherish their schools the most. They do not hesitate to sacrifice themselves to develop their school under difficult conditions, giving up sleep to carry out research and to teach students. They plan for the future of their university and try hard to secure the necessary financial resources.

The government must not discourage such attempts by introducing unnecessary systems and regulations. Universities must be allowed to enjoy real autonomy.

Recently, Yonsei University proposed a system of preferential admissions to those who contribute to the university, in order to encourage a culture of philanthropy and to bolster the university's finances to improve educational and research conditions and to add scholarships.

There are strong arguments for and against this proposal. The educational authorities stand by their prohibition on college admissions in return for financial contributions, but many parents and university faculty members favor the proposal.

Public discussions on allowing financial contributions to become part of the special admissions criteria for acceptance into university took place in 1986 and again in 1991, but soon stopped. Critics said "public sentiment" was against such proposals.

I wish to emphasize that the preferential system for contributors Yonsei University proposed is quite different from the general donation-for-admission system. The university is actually calling for repaying the kindness of those who contributed to the university both in material (tangible) and non-material (intangible) ways.

Material contribution refers to donating fixed or movable assets to the university, and non-material contribution refers to the achievements of the school founders or of those who helped greatly with the development of the school. To qualify as a material contributor, the donors would have to make their contributions over a certain period of time.

Their donations would be managed transparently by a special committee consisting of outsiders, such as civic representatives, and the money would be used strictly for scholarships and for improving educational and research conditions.

Yonsei University proposed to offer benefits of various forms as a way of repaying material and non-material contributors. For instance, the university can give them preferential treatment when they use the university hospital or other school facilities, or it can offer consulting services and personnel support for the companies they manage. Or the university can allow their offspring to enter the university outside of the regular admission quota, if they meet a certain level of academic achievements.

Korean institutions of higher learning cannot compete just among themselves in this age of globalization; their competitors are foreign universities. They have to be allowed to enjoy true autonomy to upgrade their competitiveness.


The writer is the president of Yonsei University.

by Kim Woo-sik

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