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[Op-Ed] College Admissions Officer System

Posted July. 28, 2009 08:23,   


President Lee Myung-bak yesterday said in a radio address that all universities will either adopt the admissions officer system or one that selects a certain proportion of students from rural areas by the end of his term. His comments sent shockwaves across society for their clear implication that his administration will overhaul the university admission system under a specific deadline, which goes beyond suggesting the need for reform of college entrance and an admissions officer system as a measure to alleviate excessive private tutoring.

Immediately after his address, the presidential office said educational reform will begin with introducing a student screening system based on high school performance, followed by reform of curriculum and the college entrance exam. All universities can adopt the admissions officer system by 2013 since the reform process will take around three years. Though the administration’s resolute intention to tackle problems arising from private education is understandable, it is impossible to have all universities adopt the admissions officer system. Such an attempt clearly goes against giving more autonomy to universities.

The admissions officer system gives more weight to student creativity and potential over academic scores, and its effectiveness has been verified in advanced economies. Nevertheless, it took more than 100 years for the system to take root in the U.S. even with all the know-how and trust between American high schools and universities. Unfortunately, Korea is behind in this sector. The number of students selected from the system rose 4.5 times from 4,555 in 40 universities last year to 20,690 in 47 schools this year. It is simply absurd to select all students with admissions officers within three years when students and parents face great confusion due to a system that selects only six percent of all freshmen.

The administration should remember that reforming university admissions is no easy matter. It also pledged to grant universities more independence in selecting students while criticizing its predecessor’s educational policies. State intervention in the university entrance system is anachronistic. No wonder Vice Education, Science and Technology Minister Lee Joo-ho said in response to the president’s statements, “The pace of reform will have to be revised.”

Such reform will require years of research and social consensus building. If the administration tries to overhaul the system in a short timeframe simply to weaken the private education market instead of working toward long-term goals, great confusion and negative consequences will ensue. The admissions officer system selects students based on subjective criteria and decisions that are bound to stir up more controversy than using the college entrance exam. Sudden changes could be an invitation for trouble.