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[Editorial] Seoul National Univ., Inc.

Posted December. 11, 2009 00:51,   


A Cabinet meeting yesterday approved a bill on the incorporation of Seoul National University. The bill requires approval by the National Assembly but the government envisions the launch of SNU Inc. by March 2011. The plan on the incorporation of national universities began in 1995 but has stalled in the face of strong opposition by public schools. Japan began the same process in 2000 in apparently following Korea’s lead, yet completed it in 2004. Korea began the process earlier but has been slower to implement it than Japan.

Seoul National is under the umbrella of the Education, Science and Technology Ministry and the school`s faculty and administrative staff are government officials. More than 400 ministry officials are deployed to national universities, including Seoul National. Hence, the universities are structured in a way that operates under ministry orders. They must always gain prior ministry approval to reshuffle their organizational structure and use state budget only as designated by the government. Competing efficiently with the world’s top universities under this rigid structure is like soldiers going to a battlefield with their hands and feet tied.

If Seoul National University is incorporated, its 15-member board of trustees will serve as a decision-making body. The university will be freed from state intervention and at last secure the right of self-autonomy. The direct election system for the university president, under which the president and professors form personal connections, will also be replaced with an indirect one. A successful example of incorporation of a public university is Ulsan University of Science and Technology. Launched as an incorporated national university instead of a national university this year, the school has a guaranteed retirement age of 70 for outstanding professors and 65 for regular professors. It is also different from other schools in that it recruits talented faculty from abroad by paying top dollar.

Seoul National University ranked 47th in this year’s survey of the world’s best universities conducted by the Times of London. The school is one of a few that have the potential to become a world-class institution. With incorporation, it will embrace major changes to overall management but this does not guarantee a path toward becoming one of the world’s best. A measure is thus needed to hold the university accountable for performance and achievement on a regular basis. Efforts must also be stepped up to incorporate other national universities as well.

In this year’s survey on the competitiveness of higher educational institutions by the Switzerland-based IMD, Korea ranked 51st among the 57 countries studied. For Korea to raise the level of its public university sector, an area that operates recklessly with taxpayers’ money, drastic measures including incorporation are required.