Challenges for college reforms

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Challenges for college reforms

The quantitative growth of Korea’s higher education institutions has passed a critical point. There are 337 colleges - 199 four-year and 138 two-year colleges - in the country. Despite the numerical growth, however, their global competitiveness is quite disappointing. Only one university, Seoul National University, is among the world’s top 50. Discarding the permission system for founding universities contributed to the deterioration of the quality of education.

Our colleges face a crisis as the number of high school graduates will be smaller than the overall college admission quota of 560,000 from 2018. The number of high school graduates will plunge to 400,000 in 2023.

To resolve the imbalance, the Ministry of Education has come up with the results of its first appraisal of colleges’ restructuring efforts in a bid to reduce the overall entrance quota by 160,000 by 2023. The ministry notified colleges - except the top 51 - of a plan to trim their quotas by 4 percent (for B-grade) to 15 percent (for E-grade) within two years depending on their ratings. If they don’t abide by the direction, the ministry intends to exclude them from its financial assistance. The ministry aims to cut their entrance quotas incrementally until 2020.

The problem is 66 colleges in the lower brackets, which received D and E grades. Those universities, which will not be eligible for the government’s financial and scholarship support, include Kangwon National University and local campuses of Korea University and Konkuk University. Because that translates into a de facto death sentence for E-grade schools in particular, they’ll have serious trouble attracting students.

The government-led structural reforms have problems. For instance, the ministry allocated a uniform ratio of admission quota reductions for colleges without clear legal grounds. The reform is also bent on striking a balance between colleges in Seoul and other regions mostly based on employment rates without considering the overarching value of academic freedom and autonomy.

The government must approach the issue in a more effective way to improve the competitiveness of our universities. The National Assembly must quickly pass a bill specifying the basis for the compulsory closing of a number of unqualified colleges. The government also must make public which universities received what grades. But universities themselves must change to avoid state intervention.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 1, Page 34

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