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[Opinion] Deplorable Universities

Posted July. 16, 2005 03:05,   


College students stripped. In an intensely cold December, some staged a protest naked while others sold nude calendars featuring themselves. These things happened among German college students last year. Students who received their education free of charge or on a “national scholarship” protested with their bodies against a bid to adopt tuition fees. Even before the winter passes, the German constitutional court ruled to abolish free education.

Money is freedom as well as power. Germany extended access to higher education thanks to its free education policy, but government interference is nearly limitless. From student selection, curriculums and faculty activities, there is little that colleges decide. So much so that The Economist once wrote, “the German university system punishes success in the name of equality.” As there are no tuition fees, many students delay their graduation for years. It is fair for them to be called “parking lot universities”.

Kim Jin-kyung, presidential secretary for education and culture, wrote on the Cheong Wa Dae website: “It is no exaggeration that the governments take charge of student selection in Europe.” She went on to explain, “that is because student selection has profound effects on elementary, middle and high school education and the formation of excellence in society.” Unfortunately, the result is a “fall in intellectual ability”. According to the ranking of the world’s universities released by the European Commission last year, all but two schools, Oxford and Cambridge, among the top ten were all U.S. universities. The Lisbon agreement aimed at turning Europe into the most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010 is already headed for failure thanks to a shortage of talent.

Given President Roh Moo-hyun emphasizes the “guarantee of access to university education,” the participatory government seems to be pursuing the equalization of universities, not to mention taking charge of selecting students. However, the findings of Professor Alison Wolf of the University of London show that only brilliant talents who studied in prestigious universities can enhance national productivity. A wrong policy runs the risk of mass-producing college graduates full of false ambitions.

The German government belatedly promised to nurture 10 elite universities. Potential elites of this country might face a deplorable situation because of an “activist education policy” which is ignorant of what is going on in the world.

Kim Sun-deok, Editorial writer, yuri@donga.com