The Korea Herald


Med schools demand over 3,400 new student seats despite protests

By Park Jun-hee

Published : March 5, 2024 - 15:05

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Seoul National University’s College of Medicine campus in Jongno-gu, central Seoul (Yonhap) Seoul National University’s College of Medicine campus in Jongno-gu, central Seoul (Yonhap)

South Korea’s 40 medical schools have collectively requested an increase in the annual student quota by 3,401 starting in 2025, defying doctors’ calls to resist the government’s plan to expand the quota by 2,000 a year.

The figure, 1.7 times higher than the planned increase of 2,000 students, is expected to bolster the government’s quota expansion push, which has been encountering strong opposition from doctors, medical students and professors who walked out of hospitals and refused to return in a show of protest.

Currently, the annual quota for new students stands at 3,058 and has been capped at this level since 2006. This was reduced from the previous quota of 3,507 to assuage doctors protesting the policy of separating the prescribing and dispensing of drugs at that time.

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo said during a briefing Tuesday that eight medical schools in Seoul requested a combined additional 365 students for their quotas, while five colleges in Gyeonggi Province and Incheon were willing to have a total of 565 more medical students. The remaining 27 medical schools outside the capital area wished to lift their enrollment by a combined 2,471, about 72 percent of the total.

Park said the survey’s results show that medical schools can immediately increase the quota by 2,000, shrugging off medical circles’ claims that schools are not ready for the hike and that students wouldn’t be able to receive an adequate education.

“The (survey) results from schools outside the capital area, in particular, could be seen as an indication of the areas’ desires to strengthen regional medical care and essential medical fields,” Park said in reference to the government’s planned hike, which aims to address the shortage of doctors in nonmetropolitan areas and broaden the reach of health care services.

The government will decide on allocating the additional seats by reviewing each medical school’s educational capacity and its specified demands, according to Park. He added that the specifics will be announced at a later time, declining to comment further.

Soon after the announcement, medical professors came forward to condemn the decision.

Some 10 professors at Kangwon National University’s College of Medicine appeared with their heads shaved in a show of protest, arguing that the university had submitted the request form without considering their opinions.

After shaving his hair, Ryu Se-min, the medical school’s dean, said the survey is a “political tool” used by the government to increase the pressure on students and trainee doctors who have left their positions, adding that he feels a “grave responsibility” for the move.

On Monday, the faculty council of Seoul National University’s College of Medicine also urged Kim Young-tae, the president and CEO of Seoul National University Hospital, and Kim Jeong-eun, the dean of SNU’s medical school, to step down for submitting a request to expand the student enrollment quota to the Education Ministry without heeding their opinions.

The professors at SNU reportedly warned of collective action, such as tendering their resignations en masse, if the two refuse to step down, according to reports citing education and health authorities.

With the backing of medical faculty members, each medical school has also released a series of statements in protest of the government’s decision.

“Please listen to the voices of medical students. ... Students will solely bear the brunt of the damages resulting from having more medical students if (the school) decides to increase the quota (without consideration and proper preparation),” said a statement issued later on Monday by medical students at Ewha Womans University.

Meanwhile, a total of 5,401 medical students have filed for a leave of absence as of Monday, according to the Education Ministry. None of their requests have been accepted, it added.