[Editorial] Toward college restructuring

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[Editorial] Toward college restructuring

The Ministry of Education has announced a bold plan to select 30 universities located outside the Seoul metropolitan area and give 100 billion won ($76.4 million) in subsidy to each one of them. The largest-ever aid to Korean universities is meant to foster “glocal universities” with international competitiveness and help revive local economies too. The government intends to pick ten universities this year, add five each year, and support 30 in total by 2027.

The way the ministry plans to choose the universities is quite unconventional. It determines them only through “qualitative assessment” — in other words, based on documents and interviews — after excluding any “quantitative factors,” such as the number of students enrolled. The new standards are innovativeness (60 points), performance management (20 points) and regional characteristics (20 points).

Glocal universities attract our attention as an innovative solution to resolve the increasingly thinning population in regions other than Seoul. The miraculous rebirth of Malmö — a Swedish city that was once famous for its shipbuilding industry but declined fast after losing industrial competitiveness — owed much to the remarkable resilience of Malmö University in the heart of the city. Malmö could transform itself into one of the best innovative cities in Europe by raising top-caliber students in the university thanks to special assistance and autonomy.

What matters is strict judgment and meticulous performance review. If selected universities fall short of expectations, the ministry can withdraw support for them. But more important is a fair and transparent evaluation system not affected by a blind adherence to regional balances or political pressure from outside. The ministry must select universities which present concrete, feasible and innovative goals.

The government must use drastically different yardsticks, as seen in Fachhochschule der Mittelstantds in Germany, which revamped all departments to meet industrial demand, and Brown University in the U.S., which admits freshmen with no boundaries of departments.

At the same time, college restructuring is needed. Given the dismal forecast that up to 80 percent of all universities in Korea could close in 20 years, candidate universities must consolidate departments based on departmental competitiveness, and the ministry must prepare for universities to change themselves to medical facilities if they want. A pending bill on supporting a restructuring of private universities should be passed immediately.

The government also must clearly present the direction of college restructuring and give time for universities to prepare.
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