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[Op-Ed] College Entrance Exams and Private Education Cost

[Op-Ed] College Entrance Exams and Private Education Cost

Posted February. 16, 2009 04:16,   


The government is backtracking on its pledge to grant autonomy for college admissions. Domestic universities believed they would receive full authority to choose students from the 2012 school year. The Education, Science and Technology Ministry disappointed them Friday, however, by saying the decision to free universities from government guidelines will be made after the admission for 2013 is completed based on public consensus. Admissions decisions, which have been left in the hands of the consortium Korean Council for University Education, will be transferred to an “education cooperation” council comprising university and government officials. With this, the ministry made it clear that the government will intervene in the admission process.

The new timeframe also puts into question the government’s willingness to grant autonomy to universities. By the time college admissions for 2013 are completed, the incumbent administration’s term will end. The government has rejected this matter in a roundabout way. The abrupt turnaround stems from Yonsei University’s announcement to run its own entrance exam for 2012. Judging that the university is seeking to break from the “three no” policy, the government has put the brakes on this move.

Certain parents and teachers warn that university-administered college entrance exams will increase costs for private education and undermine public education. The government seems to have concluded that siding with universities will further aggravate President Lee Myung-bak’s approval ratings. The administration, however, should conduct a scientific analysis on why private education expenses have skyrocketed over the past several years. According to the Korean Educational Development Institute, the country spent 10 trillion won (7.1 billion U.S. dollars) on private education in 2001 and 13 trillion won (9.3 billion dollars) in 2003. The Korea National Statistical Office said the figure was 20 trillion won (14 billion dollars) in 2007, meaning private education costs have doubled over the past seven years.

The main culprit is the complicated admission system introduced by the previous administration. At the core of the problem lies the inclusion of high school grades in college admissions. This has led to a scrambling for good grades. Students can obtain higher grades when they get private education because most school exams ask students short-answer questions. Certain students have private tutors for every subject. Worse, they have to prepare for an essay test and the state-administered college entrance exam. In this situation, soaring private education costs will come as no surprise. If the admission process becomes simple, the cost will drop. College-run entrance exams were scrapped in 1997 with good reason. Things have greatly changed since then, however. Given that the Education Ministry’s fine-tuning has failed, now is the time to let universities get their way. The constant shift in educational policy cannot bring reform.

Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)