Higher education in Korea is off track
Gyeongsin High School in Daegu produced four students who got perfect scores on the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) and all of them said that they would like enroll in medical school. The JoongAng Ilbo recently traced the career choices of the students with the highest CSAT scores and found that, since 2000, 13 of the 16 natural science students with top scores had enrolled in medical and dental schools. One initially enrolled in the science and engineering department at Seoul National University (SNU), but took the CSAT again to attend SNU Medical School.
Nowadays, top students in the natural sciences often go into medicine, while the highest scorers in the liberal arts track choose to major in business. The overwhelming popularity of medical school has solidified since the economic crisis in the late 1990s, and majors in management dominated as undergraduate law programs were eliminated after graduate law schools were introduced.
The popularity of medical programs is likely to intensify as seats at medical schools increase. According to college preparatory academies, regular admission cutoff scores for most medical programs outside Seoul are higher than those of the science and engineering majors at SNU. Long gone are the days when high scorers attending SNU chose physics or electronic engineering.
Not many countries so vehemently lean toward medicine. A doctor is a respected profession in other countries too, but medical schools don’t necessarily take all the best candidates. Britain, France and Germany have undergraduate medical schools that are quite popular, but not all top students choose to attend. Top students often choose majors in physics, mathematics and chemistry.
The management major is even more interesting. The University of Pennsylvania is the only one of the eight Ivy League schools to offer an undergraduate business administration program. In the United Kingdom, economics or history majors required higher scores than management majors. In the prestigious schools in Britain and the United States, top students can also major in interdisciplinary studies.
So what will happen to Korea? Will some of its brightest win the Nobel Prize in physiology and extend the human lifespan to 100? Unfortunately, we shouldn’t have such high hopes. The top students in medical schools prefer plastic surgery, dermatology and ophthalmology. Meanwhile, more urgent medical specialties are neglected. For many management and business majors, preparation for law school is their main focus. Korea’s higher education is, indeed, evolving ominously.
The author is a deputy editor
for the JoongAng Sunday.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 11, Page 35
by LEE SANG-EON