Relocate or split SNU? Think again
The author is the head of the social planning teamof the JoongAng Ilbo.
“Why did I become the culprit for housing price increases in Seoul? Somebody please explain!” posted an engineering grad student in an online community of Seoul National University last month. He claimed he was from a humble background from a region outside the capital, studied on his own and entered the prestigious university. Now, he was being called a “criminal.”
SNU suddenly got swept up in the housing price controversy. Last month, ruling Democratic Party (DP) floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon mentioned relocating the university to help control soaring real estate prices in Seoul while proposing a relocation of the administrative capital to Sejong city in a speech at the National Assembly. Other ruling party members advocated a “national and public university network” on the premise of the relocation of SNU. There have been discussions of dissolving SNU, but they were different this time. The SNU relocation plan has so far been discussed to help abolish the established university ranking and attain balanced regional development. But for the first time, SNU became linked to the government’s economic policies to help stabilize the heated real estate market.
How much would “relocating or splitting” the top university help curb soaring real estate prices in Seoul? Experts like Seo Jin-hyung, head of the Korea Real Estate Society, say there wouldn’t be much impact other than a symbolic significance. In fact, universities have a limited impact on housing prices. According to the Korea Appraisal Board, the average sale price in apartments in Bongcheon-dong, Gwanak District, adjacent to the university, is 21.83 million won ($18,400) per 3.3 square meters (35.5 square foot), far less than nearby Bangbae-dong, Seocho District, which averages at 37.46 million won.
To me, a joke by a college admissions specialist is far more convincing than the relocation of SNU. He suggested relocating specialized high schools and independent private schools with high acceptance rates to SNU. Despite unprecedented real estate control, housing prices in Gangnam didn’t flinch because families are still willing to rent in Daechi-dong, which has many top cram schools. Why not take advantage of the demand in reverse? However, the idea is far-fetched because the government already announced a plan to abolish all those special schools.
The proposal to relocate SNU is off to a bad start. Since the university became a national university corporation in 2012, it cannot be relocated by the state.
I hope politicians won’t repeat the same mistake of focusing on political calculations without reviewing feasibility and actual impact.