[VIEWPOINT]Corporatization gives schools controlThe University of Tokyo in Japan made headlines after a credit-rating agency awarded the school the highest possible ranking, AAA. American universities have been receiving credit ratings for more than four decades, and in the 2000s, Japanese private universities began to get rated. The higher the rating a school receives, the better its reputation becomes. That rating helps attract endowments and bring in students. The fact that the University of Tokyo was rated by an agency symbolizes the reform of Japan’s national universities.
The Corporatization of National Universities in 2004 is considered the third university reform in Japan’s history, following the 1886 Imperial University Order and the 1949 New Imperial University Order. Corporatization completely changed the future of the national universities. In the past, the national universities were under tight government control in every way, from their budgets to appointment decisions to curriculum, in exchange for government subsidies. Corporatization allowed the national universities to operate autonomously, even though the government still provides budget assistance.
Every year, the government gradually cut its assistance. At the same time, the school’s management gets evaluated every six years. The size of the subsidy would depend on that evaluation. The national universities have grown from a child under the government’s protection to an adult with autonomy and responsibility. They have opened their eyes to management and have begun making efforts to stand by themselves. Businessmen and entrepreneurs now take part in the national universities as external trustees. The schools worked hard to get patents, nurture venture businesses and enhance collaboration with the private sector. The University of Tokyo even brewed and sold liquor, and others actively sought profitable businesses. Many schools cut down on expenses as much as possible. As a result, 87 national universities in Japan made a total net profit of 71.2 billion yen last year, about 61 million dollars.
Critics of corporatization were concerned that the competition for rankings would become overheated among schools and that commercialization might discourage academic research. However, corporatization has largely secured the autonomy of national universities and prepared a foundation for further development. Many local governments are pursuing the corporatization of their public universities, and it has spurred private schools to reform.
How about universities in Korea? The government announced a special corporatization of national universities in 1995, before Tokyo began the reform, but the plan was scrapped when universities resisted. This year, the government is pushing corporatization once again.
The University of Incheon, which is transforming from a public school to a national university, and the newly founded University of Ulsan are to be corporatized by 2009, but little progress has been made in general so far.
The universities are concerned that government subsidies will decrease as fundamental academic research dwindles. The faculty and staff feel insecure about becoming non-governmental employees. The students are worried about potential tuition increases.
In a survey conducted last year, Seoul National University professors were evenly divided when asked if they support corporatization. The opposition is stronger among professors at national universities in other regions.
While they might be criticized for trying to keep their stable status as government employees, they have reasons to oppose the measure. A source from Seoul National University says, “The schools must be convinced that the government will continue to provide reasonable subsidies and guarantee autonomy.” They believe the government might lower the budget, yet continue to infringe on autonomy after corporatization. The schools are also upset about the insufficient amount of government investment in universities. Last year, four-year universities and two-year colleges had a total of 2 trillion won in funds, and government subsidies made up only 23 percent of their budget. The average among the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development member countries was 78 percent. The University of Tokyo received 93 billion yen, about $798 million, from the government in 2004, while Seoul National University is receiving about 200 billion won, or $210 million, this year. So the universities rightly argue that they should jump into the competitive market only after they build up enough strength.
Nevertheless, the corporatization of the universities is not something to be delayed any longer. Korean universities are competing with schools around the world. The national universities need to spearhead the reform. It is a way to enhance national competitiveness. Instead of distrusting the government, national universities need to put their heads together and prepare a long-term vision. Once they are corporatized, they will be given their long-cherished autonomy.
They have a long way to grow. Thinking as if this is their last chance, the government should trust the country’s universities and do its best to help them bear fruit.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Day-young