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Korea’s top university struggles with big class sizes

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Published : 2014-05-19 21:16
Updated : 2014-05-19 21:16

The number of jam-packed classes at the Seoul National University is on the rise despite the Education Ministry’s policy to enhance the quality of classes, data cited by a state-run college information website showed Monday.

According to Academy Info, 123 classes at the nation’s top university in the first semester of this year have 100 or more students. It marked a significant increase from 98 classes in the first semester of 2013, and 94 during the same period of 2012.

Of the 123 large classes, 13 have more than 200 students. These mega-sized classes had been gradually decreasing prior to this semester; from 10 in the first semester of 2012 to five in the second semester of 2013.

The number of relatively smaller classes ― with 20 or fewer students ― in the first semester shrank from 1,361 in 2012 to 1,212. They made up 38.3 percent of all classes, the first time in three years the figure dipped below 40 percent.

Experts generally agree that smaller classes are preferred over larger classes, because professors can only dedicate limited efforts to each student in classes with 100 or more students. “For educational purposes, we need smaller classes. But faculty and budget shortages are preventing that from happening,” an SNU professor said.

The surging number of big classes is in contrast to the general trend at other Korean universities.

The Korea Council for University Education recently said the percentage of classes nationwide with 20 or fewer students for the first semester increased by 1.2 percent to 38.1 percent. On the other hand, the number of classes with 100 or more students decreased by 5.5 percent from last year to 3,539.

This is mainly because the Education Ministry started penalizing universities with too many big classes, in a bid to improve the learning environment for students.

The data showed that colleges outside of Seoul and Gyeonggi Province ― which are generally less prestigious than those located around the capital ― were more active toward class overhaul.

This indicates that higher education institutes that are already receiving top ratings, such as SNU, are relatively lax toward cutting down the number of large-scale classes.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

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