[EDITORIALS]Fixing college entrance examsStarting in 2008, when students now in their first year of high school will be graduating, Seoul National University will implement an autonomous essay-style entrance exam. The country’s most prestigious school announced that it would use the government’s national college entrance exam only as an application criterion and that students’ high school grades will make up 40 percent of their application, while essays and interviews will determine the remainder.
The importance of essays and other alternative criteria to evaluate entrance applications was bound to rise following the government’s new college entrance policy defined last October. The new entrance system classifies students nationwide into nine academic levels. There are more than 24,000 students in the topmost level, which means universities have no way of distinguishing their academic skills. As of last year, 49 percent of college applicants nationwide were chosen on their high school grades, special skills in certain areas or as part of an action plan for developing regions. The other 51 percent were accepted on their College Scholastic Ability Test scores. Under the new system, however, that has become virtually impossible.
The current Ministry of Education policy prohibits universities from adopting a high school ranking system, implementing entrance examinations other than the national one and accepting admissions in exchange for financial contributions. This is tying the hands of the universities when it comes to the entrance system. The new system means that students who received lower grades in competitive schools such as high schools specializing in foreign languages or in sciences, and high schools that implement entrance exams are at a disadvantage when seeking entrance to universities they prefer. The entrance exams are the universities’ answer to this problem.
A measure must be found to allow students who excel in a certain subject or graduate from a special-purpose high school to enter universities even if their school records are not so good. Universities and colleges will decide, according to the new government policy, their entrance system by October. Seoul National University’s decision to emphasize essay exams is the beginning of the debate in earnest. It is wrong for the government to restrict schools from implementing autonomous entrance exams. Universities and colleges should be given the freedom to decide their own entrance system within the boundaries of existing regulations.