SNU in the cross hairsSeoul National University (SNU) takes pride in the excellent education it offers and its academic research. With the number of its faculty exceeding 2,000, the prestigious school spends an annual budget of over 1 trillion won ($850 million). The university turned into a corporate body in 2012 to enhance its global competitiveness by shaking up a sclerotic organization and revitalizing its personnel and financial management system based on autonomy and independence. The government backed it up with drastic measures to guarantee the status of professors, instructors and other employees.
But we wonder why the top university’s global competitiveness has been falling since the government’s decision to change its legal status from a state-run institution to a corporate body. According to The Times’ rating of universities around the world, SNU dropped to 85th last year from 50th a year earlier. The results of a survey by U.S. News and World Report are no different. The rank of SNU fell to 105th from 72nd over the same period.
The primary reason is the poor quality of its research. SNU spent a whopping 458.5 billion won — more than 10 percent of the Ministry of Education’s 4 trillion won in subsidies for all four-year universities in the country — in 2014. The amount is six times the subsidy for Ewha Woman’s University and five times larger than what Postech received from the ministry. And yet, SNU ranked 544th in the category of the top 10 percent quotations from academic journals around the world, while Postech and Ewha ranked 219th and 446th, respectively.
The faculty at SNU received a hefty government subsidy by taking advantage of its excellent reputation without producing remarkable research. This could be attributed to SNU’s adherence to short-term academic performance after turning a blind eye to the desperate need for groundbreaking academic breakthroughs. More shocking is the paltry annual revenue from its start-ups, which accounts for 0.1 percent of what Peking University earns from its start-ups. While SNU earned 15.4 billion won, Peking University earned 14 trillion won last year.
But SNU appears not to have awaken from its slumber. The university attributes its shabby academic performance to the government’s looking at the quantity — not quality — of its academic research. The government’s practice of doling out subsidies should be stopped. But SNU must first reform itself. The university must create an environment that can foster creative minds. Its intransigent academic culture must be rooted out. We urge SNU President Sung Nak-in to find a breakthrough.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 22, Page 30