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Universities need reorganization to brace for population decline

Universities need reorganization to brace for population decline

Posted March. 04, 2014 07:27,   


Most Korean universities tend to have all kinds of departments ranging from medicine to performing arts. This is a major cause that weakens the competitiveness of Korean universities. Until the 1990s, there was a widespread belief that universities must scale up for development. Universities could comfortably do so as high school graduate applicants outnumbered the entrance quota.

Having too many departments, however, makes it difficult for universities to take a “select and focus” strategy to compete against its peers around the world. Once created, departments set up walls and become closed and inefficient. Increasing competitiveness is often put on the back burner. Continued low birth rates are forcing universities to restructure themselves, but they do not seem to budge. The Dong-A Ilbo counted the number of departments at 38 large private universities and found a university has an average of 61.3 departments, which is 10 departments more than prestigious private universities in the U.S. and the U.K.

Although universities are willing to reorganize themselves, the plan does not seem to move forward because all departments strongly oppose restructuring, claiming that they are “absolutely necessary.”

Chung-Ang University announced restructuring in 2005 and set up a plan to cut the number of departments from 77 to 40. After strong opposition, however, it now has 54 departments. Art colleges produce more than 30,000 students annually, producing the jobless due to oversupply amid stagnant market.

Some experts argue that department structuring would lead to a collapse of foundation studies because the departments that are not good for getting a job such as humanities will disappear. Even if universities reduce humanities departments, research and education activities in humanities on campus will continue as they are essential. Both public and private universities need to play different roles. While public and national universities should maintain foundation studies, private universities that are less competitive should focus on their own specialties. University restructuring is an urgent matter. Korean universities should select and develop departments and majors where they have strength to bring themselves to another level. Unless they restructure themselves, government intervention may be inevitable.