The South Korean Education Ministry announced a university reform plan Thursday aimed at cutting the students quota by districts and excommunicating marginally performing colleges that are financially ill-equipped. With the entire country split into five broader districts, the plan also recommends slashing the number of students by 30-50% in different districts starting in 2024 when the current highschool freshmen will have entered college. From next year, marginal performers will be selected to take three-step correction measures, and if they don’t improve after taking such actions, the next step is to shut down. While the cut in quota is only a recommendation, it is mandatory for colleges as it is pegged with subsidies.
“It is a critical juncture for the education circles facing a plummeting population of students, and this calls for a collective action,” said the ministry about the reason behind the drastic recommendation. With a slew of far-flung local colleges failing to meet the basic quota of students owing to the lack of students, the buck has been passed to the major colleges in the Seoul metropolitan area to share the burden.
But among the 84 marginal performers, 62 (73.8%) are located outside the Seoul metropolitan area. In addition to the plunging birth rates, corruptions or morale hazards have been the primary causes of their current predicament. Against this backdrop, forcing a cut in students quota monolithically can act as a counter-discrimination against the strong performers, severely limiting the scope of options for students. Among the colleges located in local areas, the departments of high-tech engineering are still proving highly popular. Instead of exacting a monolithic downsizing, the ministry needs to take a more selective approach, gradually reducing the vacancy rates in the departments that are in higher demand in local colleges.
Choosing the Seoul metropolitan area as a key criterion of college reforms also strikes as myopic. Since 2003 when QS World University Rankings started rating colleges across the globe, no Korean universities have ever made the ranks in the top 30. College education policy must be decided and executed as part of boosting national competitiveness as we are living in the times when national security is placed at the mercy of technology.
A grim prospect looms where the precipitous fall of college might overtake the scheduled process of weeding out unqualified players. This year, the vacancy for college entrance quota was around 40,000, and the figure is expected to surge to 100,000 by 2024. College reforms are an endeavor that the government has tried since 2013, but only 18 have shut down over the last eight years. Hesitancy is costly; it chips away at the competitive edge of our colleges and erodes the quality of education, turning our students into victims. “Zombie colleges” must be sifted out to prevent the meltdown of our college ecosystem.