University restructuring scheme runs into resistance

By Yoon Min-sik

Government’s plan to cut number of students faces fierce opposition

  • Published : Mar 27, 2014 - 20:42
  • Updated : Mar 27, 2014 - 20:42
The government’s plan to slice down the number of college students to enhance educational quality has run into a hurdle, as students and professors opposed what they called the “reckless” merger and shut down of departments.

As of Thursday, the student council of Kyonggi University’s Seoul campus has held a week-long demonstration against the school’s plan to reduce the number of departments. The organizational overhaul involves merging eight departments in Seoul with the identical departments at its campus in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province.

“Running multiple departments drives up the cost. For efficient operation, we need to merge departments that are redundant,” said an official from Kyonggi University.

Another official from the university said the move was in keeping with the government policy to enhance the quality of education by restructuring.

Leaders of the student council at the Seoul campus occupied the school president’s office on Monday.

“The university is pushing ahead with a restructuring plan solely based on efficiency, ignoring the students’ right to receive an education,” said the student council president Im Seung-hyeon.

Kyonggi University claimed that it has discussed the plan with Seoul students 46 times since last August, and promised them they will be able to finish their education in Seoul.

Students, however, have said that this is a lie. They said a similar merger had taken place in 2009, but the school failed to keep their promise and moved Seoul students to other departments instead.

“The university does not recognize students as its rightful members, but only sees them as tuition-paying machines,” said Kim Gyu-sang, the Seoul student council’s vice president. “Kyonggi University needs to ask itself: Is the restructuring for better education, or to boost its ratings by sacrificing the students.”
Members of the student council of Kyonggi University’s Seoul campus prepare to shave their heads in protest of the school’s organizational overhaul on Friday. (Yonhap)

The mayhem at Kyonggi University is a testament to the rough road faced by the Education Ministry’s plan to trim down the number of nationwide college students by 160,000 over the next nine years.

Most universities and professors have agreed that the current college system needs to be revamped.

With the declining birth rate coupled with Koreans’ strong passion for education, the number of openings at colleges around the country is soon expected to surpass the number of high school graduates. Right now, there are 560,000 openings and 630,000 graduates, but the latter figure is expected to fall to 397,000 by 2023, according to Education Ministry data.

Reports indicate that there are close to 20,000 college departments in the country, and students have complained that such specialization has limited their opportunity to study a wide range of subjects.

An unnamed student at a Seoul-based university said he majored in journalism and public relations before he went to serve his mandatory military service. After he left the military, his department was divided into two ― journalism and public relations.

As he was allocated to the journalism department, he was unable to take certain courses related to public relations.

The government plan intends to rate the colleges’ respective restructuring efforts, and ones with poor results will be forced to cut openings, or even shut down.

“In principle, it (college restructuring) is a great plan. Many universities are suffering from sub-par education, either due to corruption or lack of effort from professors who can’t get fired because they have tenure,” said Jeong Jeong-hwa, a professor of public administration at Kangwon University.

He also complimented the government’s plan to provide five-year funding for colleges that submitted plans to develop a specialty in certain fields of study.

“There are so many universities across the country. The schools outside of Seoul have limits in terms of student recruitment and resources, and they should focus on developing a specialty, rather than try to teach all subjects.”

The current application of the plan, however, is a disaster, he said. Although, different standards are used for junior colleges, the rating system does not distinguish between Seoul-based schools and ones outside of the capital.

Since Seoul-based colleges have generally performed better in terms of employment rates, one key factor in college ratings, experts are concerned that provincial colleges will be at a disadvantage.

“The government needs to be mindful of the fact that not all colleges start from the same point,” Jeong said. “Under the current restructuring plan, departments with lower graduate employment rates and provincial colleges are bound to get the axe. This can ultimately hinder the diversity of fields of study.”

Even the college specialization project has some side effects.

Many provincial colleges are forcibly pursuing the restructuring process, because reducing the number of openings can earn them bonus points when applying for the project. Government funding is essential for many smaller provincial colleges.

“While forcibly pushing ahead with merging and shutting down departments, colleges are even cutting down on educational sources like research funding,” said Park Sun-jun, a history professor at Dong-Eui University, in a recent debate of professors nationwide on college restructuring.

A professor from Chungcheong Province said his college made “ridiculous” rules that include: Cutting salaries of professors, substituting professors with lecturers with nonguaranteed contracts, and allowing the school to shut down departments with slumping recruitment rates.

“The restructuring is only to assure the survival of the colleges. Students and professors, on the other hand, suffer the consequences,” he said.

Professors around the country are planning to launch a joint-committee on fair college restructuring. The committee will consist of professors, parents and students along with civic bodies, and will discuss how to deal with the state-led college restructuring.

By Yoon Min-sik (