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Privatized Seoul Nat`l Univ.

Posted December. 10, 2010 11:26,   


A bill on the privatization of Seoul National University passed the National Assembly Wednesday. From 2012, the university will be managed by a board of directors. Under the government-controlled system, it could not manage itself responsibly and reform its personnel and accounting system fundamentally. Seoul National broke with the system under which the Education, Science and Technology Ministry even named the school’s security guards and cleaning staff as well as professors and non-faculty staff. The privatization has laid the legal and physical foundation for Seoul National to join the world’s elite.

More than half of Seoul National’s board will be external directors to meet social needs and respond more flexibly to the fast-changing environment. The direct election system, which was cited as an obstacle to the university’s development, will be changed into an indirect election system under which the president is elected by the board. The status of non-faculty staff will change from that of government officials to that of university employees. Like the president of Harvard or the chancellor of Oxford, the Seoul National president will be able to exercise strong leadership in helping to push through necessary reform without caring about other professors.

Seoul National now has the responsibility to make itself the world’s best university since the obstacle that had blocked its path toward privatization is gone. It will form this month a privatization preparatory committee, half of whose members will come from outside, to lay the foundation of the privatized body. University president Oh Yeon-cheon and Seoul National members must suggest a grand vision to turn the university into one of the world’s top 10 in an unbridled competition. They should strengthen assessment of performance and promotion to enhance the school’s research capability and provide quality education to students by inviting scholars from abroad.

Fears have surfaced that basic disciplines will be marginalized because the university will focus on “money-making” subjects and that tuition will rise due to cuts in government assistance after privatization. Though privatized, Seoul National will remain a national university and should not forget to foster basic disciplines, be responsible to the socially marginalized, and contribute to the public interest. Private universities can select and focus certain disciplines for specialization, but Seoul National should not forget its obligation of laying the foundation for basic disciplines.

Domestic universities are watching Seoul National’s move with mixed feelings. Seoul National should show a vision so that its change can serve as a good example for other universities. Only after its professors and staff, who have been complacent under the umbrella of a national university, change their attitudes, Seoul National can bask in its autonomy and fulfill its obligations.