[Viewpoint]Freedom for admissions

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[Viewpoint]Freedom for admissions

It’s hard to get your orders respected at the end of your term whether you’re a president, a CEO or a university dean. No matter how much effort you put in crafting a policy, its success can be fleeting. I worry that the Lee Myung-bak administration’s push for freedom in college admissions might become a victim of this phenomenon.

The Lee government promised to implement a three-stage plan that would give autonomy to universities in admissions. The government was to take its hands off the college admission process, reduce the number of College Scholastic Ability Test subjects from eight to four, and completely free up the college admissions process. The goal is to ultimately get rid of the “Three Nos” - no university entrance exams, no high school ranking system and no admission for donations. The administration was to give the right to choose students back to the universities and have the schools take responsibility for their selections.

So, how does the report card look for the Lee administration’s college admissions policy? The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has handed over college admission-related affairs to the Korea Council for University Education. It has certainly taken the first step. However, it has failed to reduce the number of CSAT subjects because of opposition from teachers and professors, and only one subject is to be removed.

The government has retreated from its position and announced that it will finalize the new admissions system after 2012, after it goes through social discussions and a consensus is formed. Education Minister Ahn Byong-man first mentioned the delay on Feb. 11, and Eom Sang-hyeon, the head of the Office of Academic Research Policy, confirmed the decision on Feb. 13. “After 2012” is an ambiguous time frame. Does the government plan to implement the policy in 2012 or sometime after 2013?

The Lee administration will be nearing the end of its term when 2012 or 2013 rolls around. College administration will begin in fall, 2012, only a few months before Lee Myung-bak steps down in February 2013.

On the positive side, the administration is willing to keep its promise within its term. However, the timing suggests that it is trying to kick down the job to the next administration. The presidential election year will be at its height in 2012, and is bound to include heated ideological discussion on educational policy, just like the last one. When candidates and political parties are falling over each other to gain power, there will be little room for implementing the system.

Think about the CSAT grading system that the Roh Moo-hyun administration enforced at the end of its term. For the 2008 school year, Roh’s government introduced a new CSAT system that gave a grade between one and nine instead of a score. The system lasted only a year.

If the Lee administration is truly willing to go for the new college admission system, it should not retreat now. The issue needs to be discussed right now. The government should listen to the concerns and opinions of students and parents as well as education staff.

I interviewed a number of university presidents when I was working on the “Talking about University Competitiveness” series, and they had different concerns. None of them were willing to revive the old university entrance examination or to exchange admission for money. Mostly, they were eager to introduce a diversified admission procedure to select students with creativity and different potential. They also felt that the current system is responsible for the excessive boom in supplementary private education.

Minister Ahn and Vice Minister Lee Ju-ho need to untangle the knots on the college admission policy. Vice Minister Lee was the one who crafted the current educational policy based on freedom and competition. He advocated high school diversification and reinforced English instruction in public schools. I have read his 2006 book, “Diversification Beyond Standardization,” more than five times. The Lee administration’s education policy reflects the ideas in the book. He denounced the Three Nos and wrote, “I am tired of how the admission policy changes whenever the minister or the administration changes. It’s ironic that universities have to take the government’s intentions into consideration when selecting students.” Known as the president’s education mastermind, the influential vice minister is now keeping a low profile. He is no longer as stubborn and vocal as when he was the Blue House education secretary. He emphasized the educational reform that champions communication, field work and data at the “Talk with the Principals” session on Feb. 10. However, he held back on college admissions. He seems to be struggling internally.

When the minister and the vice minister have different agendas, the reform cannot be attained. The leaders need to display the will and ability to implement the right policy. Minister Ahn and Vice Minister Lee need to work together and contemplate the policy again. If they miss the timing, the chance for freedom in college admissions will disappear. We all know they won’t be in the same position until the end of the administration.


*The writer is the education news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yang Young-yu
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