The Education Ministry on Tuesday announced a college restructuring plan that involves setting up a new college rating system and trimming down the number of nationwide students by 160,000 over the next nine years.
The effort is aimed at improving the quality of education provided by junior colleges and universities, and help higher learning institutions maintain their competitive edge.
With the declining number of high school graduates, expected to fall from 630,000 this year to about 397,000 in 2023, many colleges and universities will be unable to fill their openings, which currently stand at 560,000.
“College restructuring cannot be avoided or postponed. If we fail to act, our college education system may face a situation from which it is impossible to recover,” said Education Minister Suh Nam-soo. He said that in order to improve the quality of colleges, the ministry seeks to implement a system that emphasizes the quality of education.
The government’s goal is to slash 40,000 university and junior college openings from 2014 to 2016, then another 50,000 in the next three years, and another 70,000 by the end of 2022.
The previous administration sought to weed out underperforming schools by limiting subsidies for colleges that were found to be in the bottom 15 percent nationally. The colleges were also restricted from participating in state-funded projects.
The government rated the schools based on a number-based evaluation, including the percentage of graduates that found jobs, the size of the faculty and number of academic papers produced by members of the school.
The ministry, however, said the existing rating system only had limited success with filtering out poor-quality college education and failed to cut the number of students at colleges and universities around the country.
The new rating system would also consider intangible factors instead of just looking at numbers. For example, Suh said, it will take into account whether papers are published in renowned journals and for which types of jobs the school’s graduates were hired.
It will also have almost all colleges reduce enrolment. Schools will be sorted into five different ranks, and all but the top-ranked colleges will be forced to downsize.
The ranks will be announced a total of three times from 2014 to 2022, once every three years. The rating process will commence in the first half of 2014, and the first ranking will be announced in the second half of 2015.
The specific number of students that needs to be reduced for each school will be announced in 2016.
Schools in the bottom two ratings will face limited subsidies and be restricted from project participation. The schools that finish at the bottom of the rankings will be recommended by the ministry to close voluntarily.
Schools that fall at the bottom two times in a row will be forced to close.
Junior colleges and universities will be rated separately.
The number of students expected to be cut from junior colleges and universities will be based on their total number of students. Currently, the ratio of university students to junior college students is 63 to 37, which means 63 percent of the cut will have to come from universities.
The government will form a non-permanent committee to evaluate schools. Former and incumbent college professors and industry experts will evaluate some 360 colleges.
Before the evaluation, the committee will come up with criteria by which they will assess the colleges.
The Education Ministry provided some examples of possible criteria. Those include long-term plans for development of the college, scholarship system, educational facilities, school operation, cooperating with local communities, how classes are operated and whether schools succeeded in specializing in certain fields.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)