The Ministry of Education announced plans to revamp the organization by removing the Office of Higher Education Policy, which oversees university regulations and supervision and establishing the Reform Bureau for University Regulations. There were no downsizing or layoffs. The direction of the reform is to transform the Ministry as a supportive organization to promote the government’s plan to build a ‘dynamic innovation education hub through greater empowerment.'
The highlight of the ministry’s reform is abolishing the Office of Higher Education Policy, which had been the largest organization in the Ministry. For twelve years, the office had controlled universities as if they were affiliated organizations, intervening and commenting on entrance quotas, creating and expanding departments, and even student assessments. The ministry’s move reflects its determination to remove regulations on universities.
The Office of Higher Education Policy is preceded by the “Human Resource Policy Office,” which is just as large as the previous organization. This suggests that the new office still may have an influence on controlling university policies by justifying on grounds of human resource development. Moreover, conventional university regulation duties were migrated to the ‘Bureau of University Regulation.’ When a new bureau opens at a government agency, there will be more regulations. It is ironic that new bureaus need to be created to remove regulations.
Education Minister Lee Ju-ho is a leading advocate for dismantling the ministry. In the ‘Government Reform Plan for University Innovation Report,' which was released in March this year, he stressed that drastic regulatory reform was needed to promote universities as hubs for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Lee had submitted a plan to the Commission on Presidential Transition suggesting that university supervision be removed from the Ministry and transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office. However, after becoming minister, he attempts to build a new organization justifying his cause to deregulate universities rather than downsizing the ministry. Why has he compromised his beliefs as an educational expert?
The Ministry of Education has a notorious reputation for undermining the global competitiveness of universities. There are 126 regulations controlling universities. Eight out of ten students attend private universities, and the Higher Education Act, as well as the Private School Act, is so extensive that it is impossible to create an innovative institution such as Minerva University, a prestigious school without a campus. With the government freezing university tuition for 14 years, some universities have failed to invest and are even pushed to the brink of financial hardship. Lee is forced to eat his own words when he previously remarked that university deregulation led by the Ministry of Education is like handing a fish shop to a cat. Indeed, strengthening competitiveness at universities should not be a task entrusted to the ministry.