[The Fountain] Gone with the cherry blossom ending

Home > National >

print dictionary print

[The Fountain] Gone with the cherry blossom ending

The author is a business news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The season of “Cherry Blossom Ending” has returned. The title song of indie band Busker Busker’s first album in 2012 has been a popular spring theme song for more than 10 years. You can hear it when cherry blossoms start to bloom and fall on the street.

From the late 2010s, however, the title of the song began to have a different meaning. It became the symbol of the collapse of a number of universities located in regions other than Seoul. They tended to shut down in the same order as cherry blossom would bloom — from the southern region to the northern region.

The timing of the cherry blossoms blooming perfectly matched the timing for the new student registration in Korea — late February — to determine the fate of the universities.

The cherry blossom ending is happening in campuses this year too. By Feb. 28 — the last day of the additional registration for freshmen — as many as 60 universities could not meet their admissions quota. Some schools even offered full scholarships, but failed to get enough students. Universities took steps to consolidate departments and cut their admissions quota, but they could not keep up with the quickly declining new students.

That is just the beginning. According to Statistics Korea, 249,000 children were born last year. This is about a half of the students who took the CSAT last year (454,077). Within the next 20 years, one in every two universities would have to close.

The latest figures are even more grim. The number of babies born in December last year was 16,803, the lowest ever. In December 2020, the threshold of 20,000 births per month was broken for the first time, and only two years later, it was close to breaking the 15,000 point.

The population decrease is frightful because of its dazzling speed. Once the direction is set, it is hard to reverse, as it will only accelerate. The number of mothers who can give birth to the next generation is rapidly decreasing.

At this rate, the number of babies born each month will soon be less than 10,000. In other words, the number of college freshmen will go down to about 100,000. The figure is nearly equivalent to the total number of admissions — approximately 130,000 — to colleges in the Seoul metropolitan area alone.

A new era clearly different from the 1970s and 1980s is approaching. At that time, 700,000 to 1 million babies were born annually. This is now a reality people in their 30s and 40s can hardly imagine as they spent their childhood in crowded schools.

The issue of universities struggling to fill new enrollment is only the tip of the iceberg. The cherry blossom ending will have more frightening variations: a rapidly growing elderly population, a mounting burden from having to support them, industrial sites with less vitality, and a cooling economy, for instance.

This is not happening elsewhere, as this is the very reality the young people now will face in their middle aged or senior years.
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)