Lack of communicationEwha Womans University President Choi Kyung-hee yielded to her students and officially cancelled plans to establish a four-year adult college as part of the government agenda to expand opportunities for adult and life education. She pleaded with students who have been staging a sit-in for six days to end their protest. The students, having been assured that the university will scrap the plan and punish no one for the protest, agreed to leave the main hall they have been occupying since last Thursday.
The university community and education ministry should seriously ponder the consequences of the incident. A major education agenda has been stalled and damaged by a pullout from a university due to student protest. Rally police entered a university campus for the first time in 17 years.
The incident underscored a major flaw in public education policy. The ministry has been wielding influence over universities with their 2 trillion won ($1.79 billion) annual budget for university subsidies. The college for continuing education was an ambitious program for female career workers lacking university diplomas. Ten universities were chosen and promised 3 billion won in subsidies.
The plan was well-intentioned but was hastily pursued after President Park Geun-hye spoke about the need of an education system to provide adults vocational education later in life. Although plenty of time is needed to open a college and recruit students to be ready by March, when school starts in Korea, the government selected an additional four schools, including Ewha, only last month, raising suspicion that the plan was being used to add to the list of the president’s achievements during her remaining time.
Ewha students were first to revolt against the plan. The elite university has already won two state programs and secured 25 billion in funding won for the next three years, yet it sought the deal without consulting faculty or students. Ewha failed to differentiate it from other vocational schools that the university already provides. Moreover, lecturers were told of the new plan just a few days ago. So it is no wonder the elite university has been accused of selling diplomas.
Students, however, must also repent. They resorted to collective physical action instead of trying to talk the problem out. University reform is inevitable during the current transitional period. But no matter how noble the purpose is, a new system must go through the right procedure.
JoongAng Ilbo, August 4, Page 34