Government regulation is one of the biggest difficulties to South Korean universities in preparing for days coming after the COVID-19 era, according to a survey conducted by The Dong-A Ilbo of presidents of 44 private universities across South Korea. Four-fifth of the respondents answered that management conditions and competitiveness have inevitably deteriorated for the last decade. Ninety percent said that the COVID-19 pandemic has only added up to damage. Financial conditions (70.5%) and government policies (56.8%) have turned out to be the two major factors in stacking the cards against South Korean universities.
It is worth noting that universities see deregulation (79.5%) as a more urgent measure to take than government subsidies (61.4%) although they are financially struggling, seemingly implying that they hope to have greater leeway in keeping up with ongoing shifts of our time. The heads of universities regretted that the Education Ministry only imposes regulations of the past and makes it hard for schools to reinvent themselves.
Given that the Education Ministry forces requirements for faculty recruitment and college evaluation that used to be the norm in the analogue era on universities while using financial assistance as the carrot, South Korean universities find it almost impossible to make innovations happen just as Minerva School, a U.S.-headquartered university program provided with no physical campus premises. The survey showed that the COVID-19 pandemic only reminded them once again that they are shackled by the regulations imposed by the education authorities. Indeed, universities are tied in a suffocating regulatory trap. They are worried if it may be against the ministry’s audit rules to purchase servers for online schooling by credit card. They have to even follow rules on how long an online lecture file should last.
The COVID-19 pandemic in the fourth industrial revolution era is accelerating the pace of being contact-free across the globe. There is a growing trend among globally renowned universities such as Stanford University and Georgia Tech to open up partnerships with Silicon Valley businesses or to expand and share online lectures. This only shows a stark contrast with South Korean universities, which feel helpless with their hands tied by the education ministry’s tight regulations. Considering that there has not been any increase in tuitions for the last 11 years, the ministry should not use an embarrassingly poor amount of government aids as a bait to tame universities but rather help them seek for fundamental innovation.