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Why are students at top sci-tech school killing themselves?

Why are students at top sci-tech school killing themselves?

Posted April. 09, 2011 00:34,   


In the wake of four student suicides at Korea`s leading science and technology university this year, many wonder what caused them to take their own lives.

According to the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon, or KAIST, a combined 16 students have committed suicide, with four taking their lives in 2003 and this year each. Given the student body of 10,000, this translates into 1.4 to 1.5 suicides per 10,000 students per year.

This figure is no different from the national average suicide rate for undergraduate and graduate students. Of 2.1 million undergraduate and graduate students nationwide, 230 to 340 kill themselves every year.

Since 2006, however, nine KAIST students have killed themselves and 13 undergraduate and graduate students at Seoul National University have done the same. Given that Seoul National University has 26,900 students, the suicide rate of KAIST is much higher.

Many blame an excessively competitive atmosphere for KAIST`s increasing number of suicides. Brilliant minds who showed superb academic performance in middle and high school reportedly receive big shocks if they receive poor grades at KAIST.

Other say, however, that this does not apply to the four students who took their lives this year. They graduated from different high schools and two of them were on scholarship.

Under a new school policy, those who fail to maintain a grade-point average of at least 3.0 must be tuition. So poor grades and a competitive school’s policies cannot be considered causes for their suicides.

Some blame KAIST`s unique admissions system and campus atmosphere. A school official said, “Many students graduated from science high schools and lived in dormitories, so some of them are socially inept,” adding, ”Some students lock themselves up in their dorm rooms if relations with the opposite sex failed.”

Another reason is the lack of seniors to give advice on campus life, other say. At KAIST, students have no major until the second semester of their sophomore year, resulting in few opportunities to get close to seniors and juniors and depriving them of a sense of belonging.

Cheon Geun-ah, a psychiatry professor at Yonsei Medical School in Seoul, said, “Students at prestigious universities are under a lot of stress if they lose self-respect due to low grades,” adding, “In this situation, professors, mentors, and psychological counselors have to play an important role.”

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