[VIEWPOINT]Graduate education fails the testEducational issues, which will control our future, seem to repeatedly disturb our society. Of course, that phenomenon is partly inevitable because it derives from the need to reform the educational system in order to cope with rapidly changing social situations. But this phenomenon also results from the government's short-sighted educational policies.
Education ministers are frequently replaced and every new education minister carries out policies without sufficient preparation, under the belief that he should produce fresh achievements. The government's tepid interest in improving educational standards in graduate schools is a good example of this myopia.
Over the last few years, most of Korea's first-class colleges, including Seoul National University, have promoted education focused on graduate schools. The schools believe that the development of the sciences needs the most expansion and reinforcement at the graduate level. But these universities have failed to establish environments and substantial systems for this graduate education. Accordingly, graduate schools at Seoul National University have recently found the number of applicants to be fewer than the number of openings.
This fact shocked not only local universities, but all of Korea. If Seoul National University, which is generally considered the No. 1 college in Korea, has reached such a deplorable situation, the situation will be much more serious at other universities. The number of the applicants for graduate schools at other universities were not fewer than the openings. However, the quality of those applicants had sharply declined.
The government and university authorities attribute the shameful phenomenon at Seoul National University's graduate schools to outside factors. Those factors include a sluggish Korean economy and the adverse effects of Brain Korea 21, a national project to nurture human capital in the high technology sector.
But basically, the Seoul National University phenomenon results from inside problems, which have been a part of Korean graduate schools for an extremely long time.
For many years, Korean universities have excessively preferred those who hold foreign doctoral degrees to those who have domestic degrees, making graduate students in domestic universities lose hope of ever becoming a professor, despite their hard work in school. Accordingly, excellent students who graduated from domestic universities think about going abroad to study in graduate schools there, and many eventually go if their economic conditions allow it.
It is clear that we cannot expect the development of sciences in graduate schools without students. In the natural science sector, professors need graduate students, who will research with responsibility and creativity, to obtain good research results. In the humanities, professors need students with whom they can have intellectual discussions in the classrooms and thus achieve further development.
Japanese universities depend little on those who obtain academic degrees from overseas colleges. Still, Japan has produced academic fruits, which place it just behind some Western countries. Japan's universities use the "post-doctoral" system, in which they appoint domestic graduates as professors and then give the professors the chance to study in foreign countries.
In extreme cases, universities in Japan give those professors a chance to obtain another doctoral degree from a foreign university, in complete contrast to what Korea does.
If the Korean government and universities continue to disregard domestic graduate students, Korean professors will be sacrificing their students. To prevent such a situation, Korea should select a small number of students who have great potential in the sciences, and invite them to graduate schools at domestic universities. And then, Korea should give those students a sufficient chance to study and teach in those universities.
If schools continue to fail to accomplish those goals, Korean students will remain reluctant to enter domestic graduate schools, even though Korean universities insist on an education that is focused on graduate schools.
The writer is a professor of English literature at Sogang University.
by Lee Tae-dong