[OUTLOOK]Policies must reflect reality

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[OUTLOOK]Policies must reflect reality

The government has changed its understanding and stance on many issues since it came to power.
In particular, regarding market opening policies and labor issues, the administration has drastically altered its views ― some of which have then been reflected in new policies.
However, the government has not changed its stance at all in two fields: real estate and education policies.
On these matters, some government officials’ and politicians’ intentions have become policies, regardless of any public criticism, expert analysis or global trends.
Recently, the government announced that it would impose new taxes of up to 50 percent of profits gained from sales of reconstructed apartment units.
It also stated that high school records would count for 50 percent of points for university admissions, without exception.
These announcements came as a shock to many people.
The education policies, in particular, are not limited within a certain area or to one generation and thus raise more worries.
The problems in the administration’s education policies are three-fold.
Firstly, the government ignores the reality that there are gaps between different high schools in regard to their students’ average academic performances.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Program for International Student Assessment, one Korean high school had all its students within the top 40 percent nationwide, while another had not a single student in that upper group.
In this situation, if the weighting of high school scores was increased in calculating university admissions, high schools would no longer need to fiercely compete with other schools.
Instead, students would compete only with other students in their individual schools. Therefore, all students’ performances, on average, would be lowered.
Secondly, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union and the government argue that over-heated educational competition does harm to our children. This argument is exactly the opposite of accepted market principles.
This attitude denies the desirable aspects of competition and might lead to distorted competition.
The United States and Great Britain introduced an egalitarian-oriented education system 30 years ago. Since then, they have both been suffering from low academic performance by students.
President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have been doing their best to improve students’ performance by once again making schools in their nations compete with one another.
Too much emphasis on a student’s rank in the school might also lead to distorted competition.
Students would do their best not to achieve better performance by general standards, but to receive a better evaluation on transcripts from their individual high schools.
This would only waste time and effort.
Lastly, the measures by the Education Ministry are anti-democratic.
When a private university cannot choose students as it wishes, cannot decide its level of tuition fees and cannot receive donations as it needs, what then is the difference between private and national universities?
Although none of Korea’s universities rank among the world’s top 100, all are making efforts to enter that class within a couple of years.
When the level of public sponsorship for universities in Korea is way below the OECD average, then restraining the universities with all manner of regulations is like telling them to compete with their hands tied.
When the education market is already being opened, these unrealistic, uncompetitive and anti-democratic education policies can cause even more serious side effects.
When students can choose to study abroad and foreign universities are about to be founded here, we wonder how many Korean high school students will choose to stay within the Korean education system.
These arguments I listed above are unlikely to be reflected in the administration’s new policies.
As I wrote to begin, the administration does not listen to anyone but blindly sticks to its own intention when it comes to real estate and education policies.
In the near future, the side effects from those policies will accumulate and will require drastic reform.
This will be, however, long after we have paid the huge cost of low academic performance and weak national competitiveness.
The Korean citizens will then remember that it was the politicians of today who caused the problems.

* The writer is a professor of economics at Yonsei University.


by Lee Doo-won
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