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[Editorial] Struggling Universities Need Restructuring

Posted May. 08, 2009 08:18,   


The Education, Science and Technology Ministry will make a list of private universities facing difficulty due to declining student enrollment. This was decided at the first meeting of the ministry’s new committee to advance domestic universities. Education Minister Ahn Byong-man stressed the need for restructuring, saying the right of Korean students to study will be violated if the crisis resulting from a lack of students gets worse over the next three to four years. Last year, 7.8 percent or 27 out of 347 universities (including community colleges) met less than 70 percent of their enrollment quotas. Newly established private universities in the provinces, which account for more than half of the nation’s total, face more difficulty in recruiting students.

In 2004, the government encouraged private universities to choose restructuring while merging or abolishing eight public universities, including Pusan National and Miryang National. Private schools apparently have no interest in restructuring, however. Even universities whose new recruitment ranged between 20 and 50 percent of the intended targets simply wait for government support instead of making their own efforts to survive or merge with other universities. Since a bankruptcy of a university will harm students, the government has had no choice but to introduce restructuring measures.

If struggling universities fail to proactively implement restructuring, Korea’s universities could face the same fate as their Japanese counterparts. In Japan, many private universities have stopped recruiting new students. In 2006, several Japanese universities including Hiroshima, Sendai and Tohoku even went under. In 2007, 40 percent of 559 private universities and 62 percent of community colleges in Japan failed to meet 62 percent of their student recruitment targets. The Japanese Education Ministry eventually released restructuring measures for struggling private universities to get them on track.

Along with restructuring, Korean universities need to provide higher quality education. In the past, they contributed to national economic growth by producing talented students, but are now considered to be harming Korean competitiveness. A whopping 83.8 percent of Korean high school graduates go to university, the highest level in the world. Nevertheless, companies complain over the difficulty in finding talented grads to hire. Korea is one of the world’s most powerful economies but only two Korean universities -- Seoul National and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology -- are ranked among the world’s top 100.

One reason blocking universities from conducting voluntary restructuring is an irrational system in which the assets of private universities all go to the government’s coffers if the schools are closed. The committee should clarify the definition of a private university and allow a school founder to get back part of a university’s assets if the school is shut down.