Toward fairer admissionsA finding by the Education Ministry underscored how arbitrary our universities had been in admissions, causing dismay and distrust in the college admission system that should be fair. In self-introductory and personal statement essays, it is strictly prohibited to mention the jobs or status of parents or the applicant’s non-academic achievements. Yet many students were accepted regardless of such mentions. The most prestigious Seoul National University also did not disqualify applicants in 2018 who mentioned non-academic language scores.
Sungkyunkwan University let a faculty member oversee essay tests in 2016 even though it knew his own child was sitting the test. At Korea University, nine faculty members were also involved in admissions review despite the fact that their relatives or acquaintances applied for the school in 2019.
Enrollment primarily based on academic records and recommendations from high schools was first included in the college admissions system under President Roh Moo-hyun to offer more channels for college applications beyond the once-a-year college entrance exam. But the enrollment raised skepticism about greater chances for children from wealthy or elite families and school backgrounds due to a lack of transparency in acceptance. Still, all of the following administrations promoted the enrollment system.
Under the original design, students can be given greater choices to apply for departments and schools they wished to attend — beyond their written test grades. Universities also have more diverse choices over promising students.
Even with good design, the system cannot be trusted if the assessment procedure is not objective or transparent. Athletes can freely compete for the competitions at the Olympic Games because both the players and audience have faith in fair rules. The results can only be questioned if the playing field is not even.
Enrollment based on academic records during high school days was accepted in the United States in the 1930s after a decade-long review. The system has been implemented in Korea for 13 years. But nearly eight out of 10 freshmen at Seoul National University benefited from the system.
To ensure fairness in enrollment, two conditions must be met. The first is objective assessment on students’ quality. The second is transparency in the assessment process to ensure credibility in the institution’s choice. State exams are credible, but its validity can be questioned as even qualified students may not do their best in a one-time test. The existence of fairness is also being questioned due to consideration concerning students from elite families or schools.
A report to the parliamentary inspection showed a surge in acceptance of children from wealthy families to elite schools amid increased enrollment from documental review. The system should be reexamined and fixed so that the college entry system does not get abused.