How bad universities fill their seats

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How bad universities fill their seats

In the ongoing controversy over reducing university tuitions, one angle has been overlooked: colleges so badly run that both the government - through subsidies - and students and parents are wasting their money keeping them going.

In 2009, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced it had come up with a list of badly run universities and told each to clean up its act. But the ministry never revealed the names of the schools or even how many were on the list.

The JoongAng Ilbo recently acquired the list, which names 13 schools and the poor management practices they were supposed to end. Five are four-year universities and the rest are two- or three-year vocational schools or community colleges.

Daegu and North Gyeongsang had four between them, followed by Gangwon with three, Gwangju and South Jeolla with two, Jeju with two, North Jeolla with one, and Busan and South Gyeongsang with one.

A reporter recently visited one of the schools, a four-year university in Jeju. The campus was eerily quiet, despite it being final exam time. “It’s a ghost town,” said a 72-year-old Jeju resident.

When the reporter finally caught up with some students, he couldn’t understand what they were saying because they were from China.

“It’s become so difficult to recruit students domestically, so the faculty and staff went to China and toured around its cities, pitching half-priced tuition for Chinese students,” said a university official.

Around 30 percent of the school’s 490 students are from China. The figure is 50 percent if you include students taking short-term Korean-language courses. Most of the Korean students pay 6.1 million won ($5,629) annually, an expensive sum by Korean standards. The Chinese pay half.

“It’s unfair to pay tuition that’s twice [the amount Chinese students pay],” said a 24-year-old senior only identifying himself with surname Kim.

For the school, “internationalization” was its only way to fill seats and make sure it met its minimum head count to get government subsidies.

When the list was compiled in 2009, the 13 schools were filling only 59.7 percent of their “quotas,” the number of students they were allowed to admit.

According to Education Ministry data, the government paid 12.66 billion won to the 13 schools between 2007 and 2009. Other schools on the list went to even greater lengths - including outright fraud - to keep their head counts up.

Some schools faked their student rosters, using the names of dropouts and even faculty members. One four-year university outside Seoul hired 172 people, disguised them as students, and gave them grades for classes they didn’t take. Another school gave scholarships to 99 percent of its freshman class in 2008 though it owed 8.1 billion won in loans to banks and other loan providers and couldn’t pay a building contractor for work at the school. But, its recruitment worked and it got its government subsidy.

Some of the schools have genuinely improved since 2009. One college in North Gyeongsang filled 94 percent of its quota.

Others continue to struggle and are forced to cut costs to the bone. “The toilet in one building has no toilet paper, so students have to bring it with them,” said a 23-year-old student at a college in Gangwon.

Some of the schools were put on another blacklist announced by the Education Ministry in September last year, which limits the size of cheap student loans the designated schools can provide for their students.

Politicians are now talking about how to reform the bad schools, which is called restructuring, along with the more politically charged issue of cutting tuitions for students.

The National Assembly’s Education, Science and Technology Committee decided Tuesday to accelerate the review of a private college restructuring law. The bill was submitted by Grand National Party lawmaker Suh Sang-kee. “Given the urgency of the issue, college restructuring should precede any decision by the government to inject finances [to cut tuitions],” Suh said.

Education Ministry officials welcomed the move. “The college tuition issue should go hand in hand with college restructuring,” said Education Ministry spokesman Lee Dae-young.

Reform couldn’t come soon enough for the school the reporter visited on Jeju.

In 2008, the school filled 57 percent of its quota, and last year it couldn’t fill half. Fewer students means less revenue and fewer creature comforts for students. “In the dorms, hot water is available for only two hours even in winter,” said a 24-year-old senior from China, “and we have to wear sweaters because the heating barely works.”

Last year, 15 students majored in tourism. This year, the number is down to two.

Some say education quality has deteriorated because of the influx of Chinese students. “Korean students suffer because the school recruited Chinese students in bulk and classes get slow because of their difficulty in understanding Korean,” said a senior.

By Special reporting team []

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

부실 대학 유지 위해 국민 세금 샌다

교육과학기술부가 2009년 지정한 13개 경영 부실 대학의 학교 운영 실태는 한마디로 충격적이다. 상당수는 ‘대학이라고 할 수 없는 대학’의 전형으로 봐도 무방하다. 신입생 충원율이 39%에 불과해 강의실이 절반 이상 남아도는가 하면 시설 투자를 못해 폐허 분위기를 방불케 하는 대학도 한둘이 아니다. 학생 모집이 어려워 온갖 편법과 불법을 동원해 자퇴생이나 교직원 가족 같은 허위 학생을 등록해 대학 간판을 유지하기도 했다. 이러니 강의가 절반 이상 이뤄지지 않거나 출석 조작으로 학점을 주는 등 학사관리가 엉망이기 십상이다.

이런 대학들에 정부는 2007년부터 3년간 국고보조금 126억6000여만원을 지급했다. 세금이 부실 대학 유지 비용으로 줄줄 샌 것이다. 더 큰 문제는 앞으로 대학 등록금 인하를 위해 정부 재정이 지원되면 이런 부실 대학들을 계속 연명시키게 된다는 점이다. 비단 이 대학들만의 문제가 아니다. 2017년부터 대학 정원이 고교 졸업자 수보다 많아짐에 따라 정원을 못 채워 경쟁력이 떨어지는 부실 대학이 속출할 수밖에 없는 상황이다.

등록금 부담을 낮추기 위한 정부 재정 지원에 앞서 부실 대학 퇴출 등 대학 구조조정이 선행돼야 한다. 문 닫아야 마땅한 부실 대학을 정부 재정으로 살려주는 건 세금 낭비이며 전체 대학 경쟁력을 갉아 먹는 일이다. 정부는 13개 부실 대학이 학교 경영을 정상화하지 못하면 강제 폐쇄하겠다고 공언한 상태다. 그러나 강제 폐쇄 전례가 없을뿐더러 사립학교법상 문 닫는 대학의 잔여 재산이 국고로 귀속되는 상황에선 대학이 반발할 게 뻔해 부실 대학 강제 폐쇄는 현실성이 떨어진다.

부실 대학이 스스로 문 닫을 수 있도록 퇴출 경로를 열어주는 게 정답이다. 마침 여야 정치권 모두 등록금 인하는 대학 구조조정과 병행해야 한다는 인식을 하고 있는 만큼 어려운 일도 아니다. 국회에 계류 중인 사립학교법 개정안 등을 조속히 통과시켜 문 닫는 대학 잔여재산의 일부를 설립자에게 돌려주는 제도적 장치를 마련해야 한다. 등록금 인하의 전제 조건이며 대학 경쟁력 확보의 필수 요건인 부실 대학 퇴출은 이제 더 미룰 수 없는 과제다.

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