Curing ailing universitiesThe government is to lead the restructuring of unsound private universities. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology next month will start checking management of around 30 financially troubled universities that could not recruit as many students as they wanted. It is possible that they run their academic programs poorly.
Schools deemed unable to survive on their own will be evaluated as poorly managed universities and they will be merged into other schools or closed. We believe this is an inevitable measure to prevent university education from worsening and to boost universities’ competitiveness.
Universities in Korea can handle more students than they do now. Even though 84 percent of high school graduates advance to universities, there are still plenty of universities that fail to fill their quotas. Last year, 42 percent of private universities could not fill the spaces they wanted to. Seventeen regular universities and 10 vocational colleges run at more than 30 percent below their maximum capacity. As many as five universities had less than half the students they wanted.
Since these universities have difficulty recruiting new students, it is hard to expect them to invest in their education. Their educational environment becomes poor and the damage is passed down to students.
Thus, unhealthy universities must be restructured. It is only right to close universities that cannot realize their goal of education due to a lack of students and difficulties in management. Of course, inducing them to close voluntarily is a desirable way to minimize conflict.
In this regard, it is good that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology works hard to prepare ways for such universities to shut down on their own. The ministry intends to provide administrative and financial support for mergers of universities, and allow universities that are to disappear to invest their remaining assets into corporations for public interest or social welfare.
The question is whether this is enough to encourage unhealthy universities to close. The answer is problematic as many universities are already trying their best to avoid being evaluated as poorly managed schools. It is thus necessary to establish limits - such as a university’s failure to enroll half its maximum number of students for two years in a row - and establish a law to close them by force.
It is worth considering measures that would give part of the remaining assets of the closing schools to the founders, while such assets are ordinarily sent to the government. That could encourage troubled universities to close on their own.