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[Op-Ed] Competition for Scholarships

Posted December. 27, 2008 03:08,   


The U.S.-led financial crisis has dealt a severe blow to the world’s top universities. Harvard University said its endowment lost 22 percent of its value this year by falling to eight billion U.S. dollars, the worst performance in four decades. When faced with falling endowment sums, universities first reduce the amount of scholarships to make up for the losses. Last year, the world’s largest endowment attracted a record number of applicants thanks to a large scholarship fund. Next year, however, Harvard will have a hard time recruiting talent from low-income households due to fewer scholarships.

Most Korean universities are also feeling the pinch because they have frozen tuition in the wake of the economic crisis. Despite this, two top-tier universities -- Korea and Yonsei -- have pledged to offer full four-year scholarships to business majors with high marks in the College Scholastic Aptitude Test. Korea University has also promised the same benefit for engineering majors. The two long-time rivals are locking horns over full scholarships for business majors. The College of Business Administration at Yonsei says 75 percent of its students scored the highest grade in all sections of the college entrance exam. Not to be overdone, Korea University indirectly attacked its rival by placing advertisements saying, “The College of Business Administration at Korea University is better than that of Seoul National University.”

Though Korea University has had the leading law program in the country, it has recently moved to raise the image of its business program. Along with the rivalry between the two universities, a change in Seoul National University’s admissions policy has played a part in the record number of scholarships. The country’s top university says it will use the college entrance exam results its second stage of student screening from 2010. This will prompt more students from special purpose high schools with good scores on the test to apply to Seoul National University. Against this background, it is natural for Korea and Yonsei to feel a sense of crisis.

The strategy by universities to increase scholarships amid financial difficulty is similar to the plan of corporations to boost investment in times of economic slowdown. The move by the two universities can encourage other universities to follow suit. Focusing on developing the business major, however, can trigger controversy. A better move is offering scholarships to humanities and basic science majors, considering that a large number of talented students are attracted to business even without scholarships as incentives. Luxurious facilities of university business programs discourage students from studying basic disciplines. Domestic institutions of higher learning should remember that basic sciences are the bedrock of a country’s education.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)