Ministry unveils plan to curb college enrollment

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Ministry unveils plan to curb college enrollment

Faced with a shrinking pool of high school graduates, the Ministry of Education yesterday unveiled its outline for a bold college restructuring plan in a bid to reduce the number of undergraduates by 160,000 by 2023.

Under the new plan, authorities will split college evaluations into five levels, taking into account both qualitative data, such as students’ opinions of courses, and quantitative assessments.

With the exception of schools that receive the highest scores, all colleges will have to reduce their enrollment by a certain extent.

If a college receives the lowest score two consecutive times, it will be forced to close.

“So far, the law doesn’t clearly mention that the Education Ministry has the authority to close colleges,” Uhm Jin-seob, of the Education Ministry, told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“But if the National Assembly passes the new measure, the ministry is entitled to force them out once they fail to meet certain standards,” the official said.

The education authority will also cut off all general financial subsidies, including support for student financial aid, to schools that receive the lowest marks.

Colleges with the second-lowest scores will be partially limited in receiving such assistance.

Schools in the lowest and second-lowest levels will also be barred from participating in any government-funded research projects. The measure will be carried out over three phases. University enrollment will be reduced by 40,000 until 2017, and then by 50,000 through 2020. Enrollment will then be decreased by 70,000 between 2020 and 2023.

Yesterday’s measure is the latest in a string of government efforts to reduce the number students in the postsecondary education system, with Korea’s low birth rates triggering a drastic decline in the number of high school graduates.

But despite declining numbers, new colleges - many lacking specialized resources and funds - have consistently sprung up over the past few decades, particularly after the Education Ministry relaxed the requirements for the establishment of new universities in 1995.

Yesterday’s announcement included stricter regulations for the establishment of any new college.

In the past, an institute was required to have at least 10 billion won ($9.28 million) in capital. Under the new rules, that amount will be increased to 30 billion won.

The current university assessment is primarily focused on identifying colleges with poor financial records and restricting them from receiving government subsidies. But those punishments never included forceful enrollment cuts.

The new outline also significantly changes the way the ministry evaluates schools.

When assessing universities nationwide, the Education Ministry will factor in qualitative assessments. Previously, the ministry evaluated colleges based on quantitative data, including their graduates’ employment rate and their financial stability.

This shift partially reflects Education Minster Seo Nam-soo’s efforts to improve schools.

“If we only focus on numerical data, universities will find ways to improve those ratings,” Seo said last year. “They can find loopholes or shifty ways to boost their scores.”

When imposing enrollment cuts, the ministry will try to maintain the current ratio of student admissions in four-year academic-oriented universities and two- and three-year colleges.

Presently, about 37 percent of undergraduates attend two- and three-year colleges, with the remaining 63 percent attending four-year universities.

The ministry previously considered adopting a separate evaluation system for colleges in Seoul and neighboring Gyeonggi, and schools outside of the metropolitan area, following criticism from faculty and educators from other provincial regions.

However, it ultimately decided to use the same measurement system for all colleges. “When we changed the measurement system, we figured that it would not necessarily put schools outside of Seoul at a disadvantage,” Uhm said.

The ministry plans to diversify assessments depending on the areas in which a college specializes.

An official in the college education division in the ministry said that the new evaluation system will take effect at the end of this year if the National Assembly passes the proposal within the first half of this year.

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