[VIEWPOINT]Leave universities alone

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[VIEWPOINT]Leave universities alone

Government intervention in university admissions is getting more serious. First, it tied the hands and feet of universities by banning them from setting entrance examinations of their own to select students. It also prohibited universities from rating the academic levels of high schools, or admitting students on a “contribution-for-admission” policy.
It also urged universities to increase their evaluation of high school academic reports in their overall scores for admission. After that, it provided universities with guidelines for an essay test, and now it is asking universities to make the topics of the essay test easy. In the new university admission system next year, the College Scholastic Ability Test score and school reports of university applicants will be marked on a nine-grade scale for each subject, making it even harder to size up the ability of students.
With the introduction of such regulations and changes, have there been any improvements to the university admission system?
In a word, no. Students and parents still suffer anxiety and pain from mental pressure, and universities are full of complaints, too. Why are things getting worse?
The government should give up the idea that the goal of reviving public education can be achieved if the weighting of school academic reports is increased in students’ overall scores for university admission. The method of selecting students based mainly on school reports is a torturous thing for high school students. After all, it is extremely agonizing for students to compete fiercely with their classmates from the first day of high school till they graduate.
Moreover, students and parents will depend more on private tutoring to get better grades. Under circumstances like these, a family’s wealth will play a more and more important role in education.
If the College Scholastic Ability Test provides only a grade to which the students’ test scores belong, it can cause greater confusion. Most of the standards and references needed for university applications so far will become useless, and students will not be sure which university to apply to. Only the students who get the highest grade in two or three subjects on their College Scholastic Ability Test can afford to apply to the top level universities, and students who get middle to low grades will not know which universities to apply to. How universities will distinguish the scholastic abilities of a lot of students who achieved the same grade is another problem. Top universities will have a hard time distinguishing the scholastic ability of students who belong to, for example, the top 5 percent and share the same grade. The situation will be more serious at lower level universities, which are more likely to get a lot of students with the same grade.
Another problem with the grade system is that it is realistically impossible for students who get middle to low scores to later outdo those who received higher test ranks. This system can force a lot of students to give up in midstream if they get very low scores during the first year of high school. This is not a desirable situation.
The current system of essay test guidelines imposed by the government also brings many side effects. The guidelines demand that the essay test should not have a correct answer, not be based on specific knowledge, and English passages should not be used. These demands go against the trend of the times. Why should schools ask questions that have no answer? What is wrong with asking for knowledge in this knowledge-based industrial society, and why can’t we ask high school students in English, when we teach English even at kindergarten?
Essay topics are getting more and more difficult because universities are trying to stick to these guidelines. There is not only no essay subject in the high school curriculum, but there is no regular teaching class on essay writing. That is why students have no choice but to rely on private tutoring. Yet the government is asking universities to make essay topics easier, and I would like to know what the government’s standard for an easy topic is. The whole thing is a comedy and students and parents are being sacrificed to this comedy.
The problems related to the university admission system are the products of superficial egalitarianism. The university admission system, the product of proud progressive egalitarians of the Republic of Korea, is a comedy that is too serious to laugh at. However, today is not a time for equality but for competition. The only way we can survive is by securing good human resources through competition.
If we make our decision on the basis of minimum common sense and rationality, we can find an alternative, which although not perfect is more desirable.
First, the government must not force schools to increase the weighting of school reports or accept the grade system of the College Scholastic Ability Test in the admission process. Don’t high school students deserve some space to breathe? Second, government regulations on university admission should be abolished, and schools should be allowed to examine the scholastic abilities of students in the form of entrance exams, under the condition that the exams are at the same level of difficulty and test the content of high school curricula. Isn’t it more rational and fair to test students’ scholastic abilities instead of demanding an essay test that has no clear-cut answer nor a widely-accepted fixed form? This would also make the revival of low scorers possible. Lastly, the university admission system needs to be rearranged to be simpler and more predictable.

* The writer is the head of admissions at Sung Kyun Kwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Hyun Sun-hae
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