Focus on fairness

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Focus on fairness

A hefty dose of skepticism and distrust is threatening to derail the government-backed program to incorporate admissions officers in the student selection process at Korean universities.

The idea involves broadening the admissions process beyond test scores and overall grades to bring a human element into the decision over who to accept and deny.

But the public doesn’t exactly trust the new system, raising questions about the fairness and credibility of the process in light of the recent nepotism scandal at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Even the ruling party is poised to backtrack on the issue given widespread suspicions of favoritism in the college admissions system. The director of a local after-hours school recently stoked such concerns by boasting on his Twitter account that he can assure admission into Yonsei University because his wife is an admissions officer at the elite college. So it’s no wonder that many parents and education officials doubt the program would be fair and objective.

When assessing students, admissions officers are required to look beyond scores and consider the potential, creativity and abilities of each candidate. But the problem is that they’ve been given too much power, too quickly. In 2009, 40 universities in Korea authorized admission officers to select 4,400 new students. This year, the program has been expanded to cover 126 universities and 34,400 new students.

High schools, students and parents still unfamiliar with the system inevitably have to turn to expensive private consultants to prepare the necessary documents and essays. Universities are equally unprepared to sift through all the paperwork and interviews. In a survey by the Korea Advanced University of Science and Technology, about 30 percent of high school teachers who teach seniors questioned the fairness and credibility of the way admissions officers have carried out interviews.

To resolve this issue, universities must quickly secure admissions experts who adhere to both professional and ethical standards. Colleges must also make their admissions officer training programs more professional and efficient. Furthermore, universities urgently need to come up with a fair and transparent system and ensure that admissions officers are not involved in decisions involving their family and friends.

With so much public distrust, the government should scale down the program. The United States completed eight years of study before employing admissions officers at universities. Korea, on the other hand, implemented its program seemingly overnight. We should expand the program only after it gains credibility.

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