Published : 2013-08-16 20:07
Updated : 2013-08-16 20:07
The government has announced a package to reform higher education, which is highlighted by a plan to toughen the current rule on establishing universities.
Currently, the government automatically approves a plan to set up a university only if it meets the minimum requirements regarding faculty, school sites, school buildings and basic properties for profit.
The present system was put in place in 1996 to meet an explosive growth in demand for higher education. It facilitated the establishment of universities. In 1996, there were 264 universities and junior colleges in Korea. The figure currently stands at 337.
Yet the problem with the new rule was that it lowered the bar for university establishment too much. As a result, many substandard universities were created, lowering the quality of higher education in Korea.
Furthermore, under the system, new universities have continued to be set up, even as the number of high school students has continued to fall.
In 2000, a total 760,000 students graduated from high school. The figure plummeted to 580,000 in 2011 as a result of the nation’s low fertility rate. It is expected to further drop to below 550,000 in 2018, less than the total university enrollment quota, which is estimated at around 560,000.
The Ministry of Education forecasts that the university admission quota would be 160,000 higher than the total number of high school graduates by 2023, if the current trend continues.
It is against this backdrop that the ministry has come up with a plan to overhaul the present regulations, possibly next year.
The ministry’s move, however, is way behind the curve, given that the first warning of the looming crisis came 10 years ago. In 2003, the university enrollment quota exceeded the number of students applying for the scholastic aptitude test for the first time.
Since then, a growing number of universities have been unable to meet their student admission quotas. In 2009, the proportion of such universities topped 50 percent. Many universities began to face financial problems as they relied heavily on tuition to finance their operations.
Yet the ministry was slow to address the problem. It was only in recent years that it started to push for college restructuring. Now, the ministry plans to strengthen the regulations on university establishment, but this is closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
A more urgent task for the ministry is to step up restructuring efforts. To avert massive university bankruptcies, it needs to weed out nonviable ones now.