Wrong solution for higher ed

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Wrong solution for higher ed

Universities are raising a fuss over the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s plan to reveal the names of 50 colleges that have been forced to scale back scholarships as a result of the government’s move to cut loans to poor-performing schools.

A council consisting of presidents from two-year colleges sent a formal letter of protest to the ministry, while a group representing the nation’s private universities also came out against the government’s plan. The Korean Council of University Education - a larger organization made up of presidents from four-year universities - plans to join the chorus of protests as well.

The ministry decided to release the names of universities that were rejected for loans used to finance student scholarships, saying the move will help spur a restructuring in the higher-ed system. Students, the thinking goes, will likely shun schools with limited scholarship opportunities, leading to a decline in enrollment that will accelerate the demise of weaker colleges.

But it’s wrong to pursue the restructuring of weak universities at the expense of scholarship programs. Universities have good reason to oppose the government’s efforts to limit funding, since the guidelines for cutting loans to schools for scholarship programs are based on six random criteria such as the percentage of graduates that find jobs and the overall enrollment rate.

In reality, this move only hurts students. If the ministry releases the names of the universities without giving them an opportunity to right the ship, these schools will suffer a hit in terms of reputation, meaning graduates from these colleges could have a hard time landing jobs.

Restructuring higher education is urgent and cannot be pushed back forever. Currently, there are more open spots at colleges than there are students to fill them. With such an excess of universities, the schools that are unsuccessful in filling their classrooms will inevitably have to shut down. But pushing them into a corner by limiting loans for scholarships is not the right way to spur a restructuring. It is better to provide the universities with an opportunity to bow out gracefully.

Under current laws, universities must donate their remaining assets to the state when they close. But no university foundation will be willing to hand over its assets for free. The government is now considering creating a welfare foundation funded by these assets. But this should not be used as an incentive. The law should be revised to let the foundations of struggling universities walk away with the remaining assets. A program that encourages a voluntary and natural exit by weak universities will be much more effective than finger-pointing when it comes to college restructuring.

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