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[Opinion] The Success of SNU’s Regional Quota System

Posted May. 01, 2007 03:04,   


Top-tier U.S. universities, including Harvard, Yale and Princeton, have affirmative action in place designed to benefit ethnic minority groups, such as African Americans and Hispanics. The beneficiaries should complete the course on their own although they receive special treatment in the admissions process. Harvard graduates in the 1950s were all white. But the school introduced affirmative action later, influenced by the civil rights law. As a result, by the late 1970s, African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics accounted for eight, six, and five percent, respectively, of graduates.

However, affirmative action stirred controversy over reverse discrimination. For instance, a white engineer named Allen Bakke applied for 11 medical schools in 1972 but was turned down by all 11, despite his good qualifications. He filed a lawsuit against the University of California, saying that he was discriminated against because of affirmative action. The Supreme Court handed down a ruling favorable to him, saying, “While affirmative action systems are constitutional, a quota system based on race is unconstitutional.” U.S. universities have firmly established automatic admission system to benefit children of their alumni. The system is supported by the public because it upholds both diversity and balance.

Seoul National University introduced a regional admission quota system in 2005 for the first time in Korea. An analysis of academic performance for the school’s freshmen in 2006, those who were admitted as special talents, or through the regional quota system, recorded a higher performance than their counterparts admitted through the ordinary screening process. There were some controversies over reverse discrimination, but the result proved to be positive. The high academic performance of the beneficiaries of the quota system was probably because their hard work in high school, which was reflected in their high school grades, remained effective at the university as well.

The quota system has also allowed rural high schools to successfully send their graduates to SNU for the first time in their history. Some households even moved to provincial areas to benefit from the system. SNU adopted the system to give more opportunities to be admitted to gifted minds in rural areas that lack private education infrastructure as part of an effort to nurture talent from diverse backgrounds. If the government really cares for students in provincial areas, it should introduce diverse admission policies such as the one SNU adopted, rather than be obsessed with the regulatory “Three-No’s” policy. If admission policies designed to benefit the socially marginalized spread to private universities, opposition to a possible introduction of donation admission will subside as well.

Chung Sung-hee, Editorial Writer, shchung@donga.com