SEOUL, Dec. 18 (Korea Bizwire) – As univeresities continue to go through structural reshuffles and eliminate programs that are widely seen as ‘unpopular’ and ‘unattractive’, discussion is being had acreoss the country over the responsibility of universities as academic institutions.
In the midst of the controversy is Seoul Women’s University, where academic departments are being merged or abolished for their reputation.
One student from Seoul Women’s University staged a protest by studying in the corridor instead of the library.
“Why am I sitting in a cold corridor? It’s because my program could disappear. I’m staging this ‘studying protest’ in front of the university president’s office to express opposition to the decision to abolish certain departments,” Lee, a 23-year-old student at Seoul Women’s University said.
Seoul Women’s University’s decision to scrap programs comes on the heels of declining approval ratings, and has been met with strong opposition from students, particularly those who are currently pursuing the programs in question.
The thorny issue is also causing controversy at Kookmin University.
“I learned from a news article. It’s shocking for students pursuing a minor degree in forestry to hear that the department is going through a merger,” said Kang, a 22-year-old student at Kookmin University.
Mergers and the removal of academic programs are nothing new in South Korea, with cuts mainly targeting studies associated with low employment prospects.
However, programs cuts have grown in recent years, following a decline student numbers, and the government’s university restructuring project, also known as the Program for Industry Needs-Matched Education (PRIME).
The number of students entering elementary school, middle school, high school and university stood at 1.5 million last year, and has declined steadily in recent years.
As a result, the government introduced a scheme designed to restructure higher education and encourage promising science studies such as engineering, which saw the number of humanities and social sciences students drop by 2,500 and engineering students increase by 4,500 this year.
The Ministry of Education introduced another plan earlier this year to tighten regulations, as part of efforts to hold higher education institutions financially accountable, with the goal of slashing admissions numbers by 50,000 beginning next March.
Following the announcement, dozens of universities made public restructuring plans.
Daejin University decided to close down faculties offering studies of religion and culture, and urban real estate, and students took to social network services to express disapproval while condemning the school officials.
University officials say that faculty restructuring is becoming a sign of the times and is crucial for the survival of academic institutions, a life-or-death decision for some universities as enrollment is expected to decline in the future.
“What the Ministry of Education proposes can’t be ignored. The future of students and universities depends on restructuring plans for humanities and social science faculties,” a university official said.
South Korean students, however, often take an opposing view to the restructuring plans with a focus on employment pushed by the government and universities, as many of them believe universities should give opportunities for students to learn a variety of subjects and create their own career path.
Kim Byung-kook, a senior official at the Korean University Worker’s Union, says the government’s higher education restructuring plan has failed to respect universities’ traditional role as purveyors of knowledge.
“The government has focused far too much on supply and demand in crafting higher education policy, without a deep understanding of the importance of basic science and the economic impact on local communities.”
As basic science is being pushed to the periphery of the academic world by high youth unemployment, students and universities appear to be set on a collision course over the ideal role of higher education.
Ashley Song (firstname.lastname@example.org)