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[Op-Ed] Semi-Autonomous Private High Schools

Posted June. 01, 2009 08:03,   


Despite deep interest from parents in autonomous private high schools that will open next year, private schools seem reluctant to make such a shift. In Seoul, just 33 out of 142 private high schools applied for autonomy. While 67 schools said they would apply in a preliminary survey, just half of them have done so. Observers say just about 10 of them show a positive attitude toward the shift. In five Seoul districts including Geumcheon and Dobong, no school has filed an application.

Autonomous private schools are different from independent schools. At independent high schools, the managing foundations must pay 25 percent of tuition to cover school operating costs. In return, the schools enjoy the right to select their own students.

At autonomous schools, however, the foundations pay just three to five percent of tuition for operating funds but student admission is regulated by regional superintendents.

Private schools that become autonomous are ineligible for government subsidies worth an average of 2.4 billion won (1.9 million U.S. dollars) per school. Many schools complain about the huge price for being “semi-autonomous.”

Sangsan High School, an independent private school, had a budget of 6.3 billion won (five million U.S. dollars) last year – five billion won from tuition and 1.3 billion won from its foundation. At the end of the year, the teachers’ salaries paid were bigger than the tuition collected. Even with funds provided by the foundation, the budget was too tight.

Assuming that autonomous high schools in large cities are the same size as Sangsan, their foundations will have to pay just 250 million won (199,521 U.S. dollars) in funds. Many private schools are reluctant to become autonomous, however, because it is almost impossible to run schools with such a small amount of funds. They apparently find autonomy not so attractive.

Autonomous schools constitute a key part of the administration’s policy to promote diversity in high schools. The government aims to make 100 autonomous schools across the country by 2012 to give students and their parents more choices in selecting schools and promote school competition to revive public education.

The policy will fail without a realistic system, however. Private schools should also be more committed to making themselves better.

Corporate support and participation are also needed. Japan’s Kaiyo Middle School was established in 2006 with 20 billion yen in funds donated by three companies, including Toyota Motor. The school aims to nurture the most talented students. If schools do so, businesses could be the first beneficiaries of a good education.

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