Spat over college pecking order ends in legal dispute

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : Jun 9, 2014 - 21:01
  • Updated : Jun 9, 2014 - 21:01
An online battle between proponents of two prestigious Korean universities took a turn for the worse as both schools recently charged multiple netizens with defamation.

The incident served as a reminder of the negative impact of the widespread obsession over top-tier schools in the country, which has intensified as students frustrated with the frozen job market seek any form of acknowledgement for their educational background.

Chungang University said recently it filed a libel suit with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office against 13 unidentified Internet users. The accused have allegedly posted online articles and comments that were offensive to the school.

The charges were only the latest in an ongoing battle between the students of Chungang University and Hanyang University. Just a few months ago Hangyang University accused a 24-year-old Chungang student of slander.

“College students nowadays have trouble finding a job, even if they graduate from top universities,” said social critic Han Yun-hyeong, a columnist for local magazine Cine 21. “Because of the unclear future, the students are growing anxious and want to validate themselves as being ‘above’ others who graduated from low-ranking universities.”

These “university hooligans,” as some describe them, often base their identity on the reputations the their schools. On popular online Internet cafe “,” dozens of netizens write comments every day insulting other schools and praising their own, a fight that can get downright childish.

Occasionally, a quarrel breaks out over mundane things such as which school should be mentioned first when talking about the famous rivalries between Yonsei University and Korea University. Two consecutive postings titled “Why Korea University sucks” and “Why Yonsei University sucks” appeared within minutes of each other on Saturday.

Although most of the war of words online may appear to be acts of immature students, the culture of obsessing over university reputations is no laughing matter.

Widespread perception in Korea is that graduating from Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University, or the “SKY” universities, can open up a path to success.

The notion is not far from the truth, as a college diploma can play a huge part in one’s success in Korean society. According to the Ministry of Justice, about 85.7 percent of the newly appointed prosecutors in 2012 were graduates of the so-called “SKY” universities.

This sometimes leads workers to lie about their schools. According to a survey by Chosun Ilbo, about 18.6 percent of newly recruited employees at major companies have lied about their academic or work backgrounds.

Experts are saying the social atmosphere of placing great importance on university backgrounds and students’ discontent with their reality may be the key driving force behind the seemingly petty squabbles of university hooligans.

By Yoon Min-sik (