Ninety-five chancellors of private universities met yesterday at Handong Global University and released a statement revealing their determination to win greater autonomy. This is the first time chancellors have convened in such numbers on the subject. They felt a sense of crisis that with current conditions it is hard to develop their universities and enhance their competitiveness.
The chancellors demand that the law on private schools be abolished. They argue that as long as the law regulates private schools, measures aimed at giving universities autonomy can’t work. The biggest flaw in the law, according to the chancellors, is that it requires them to employ outside figures for the university boards and the councils. They believe that these measures limit schools’ own rights and interfere with their autonomy. During the presidential election campaign, the Grand National Party pledged to either amend or abolish the private school law. Now, the GNP should accept the chancellors’ demand and kept its promise. That will match the government’s education policy and philosophy that emphasizes autonomy in education.
Many other measures that the chancellors seek are worth considering. One of them is to compensate people for the money they invest to establish a private university if the university closes due to low competitiveness. With many universities failing to enroll as many students as economically needed, a major restructuring is urgently needed. But under the current system, when a university closes down, the remaining assets go to the state. Therefore, no universities close down on their own. To reduce the number of less competitive private schools, the chancellors’ suggestions should be accepted.
The chancellors also believe that basic assets that have been used for educational purposes for 15 years or more should be allowed to transform into profit-making assets. The quality of a university education is directly related to financing. Universities must be allowed to do profitable businesses on their own. Konkuk University, for instance, has built an apartment and office building on land set aside for educational purposes, and makes a profit of more than 20 billion won ($13 million) yearly. It uses the profits to help run the school.
In Korea, private universities’ students make up 77 percent of all college students, and the numbers of private universities make up 87 percent of all universities. It is meaningless to talk about universities’ competitiveness without taking private universities into consideration.