Provincial Private Universities Struggle to Recruit Students

  • By Kwak Soo-keun, Kim Yeon-ju

    March 09, 2021 08:41

    Many private universities outside Seoul opened their new semester last week amid an unprecedented shortage of students.

    Some 162 second- and third-tier universities in the provinces failed to fill their student quotas during regular admissions season that ended on Feb. 19. This was partly because just 493,000 students took the university entrance exam last year, a record low, with the result that an estimated 10,000 places remain unfilled, mostly at provincial universities that are nobody's first choice.

    According to a tally of admissions numbers at 92 private universities nationwide by private crammer Haneul Education, they sought to recruit 11,879 more students, but only 1,983 applied.

    Woosuk University in Wanju, North Jeolla Province was one of them, and it took desperate steps, offering to admit freshmen without submitting entrance exam scores and guaranteeing admission to all applicants. But it still fell short of 270 students.

    A Woosuk University staffer said, "We came up with all kinds of ideas to recruit more students, but they were largely ineffective. We don't know what to do because applications are only going to drop further." 

    A university in Busan is locked up on Feb. 17.

    Universities in Busan, Daejeon and North Chungcheong Province also tried to make up for their shortfall with similar incentives. But there simply are no longer enough young people in Korea to fill up all the university places available.

    Woosuk University even offered new students W500,000, while Silla University in Busan offered a waiver of freshman tuition fees, guaranteed admission to all applicants and presented a W2.5 million benefit package to pay for TOEIC classes and book tokens (US$1=W1,136).

    But all to no avail. One staffer at a private university in North Jeolla Province said, "As long as universities in the capital region retain their student admissions quotas, colleges in other provinces will not be able to survive. We're in desperate need of special support."

    The crisis hangs on them like a bad smell and only prompts students to shun them more. Many fear that their university could close before they have completed their degree.

    One parent in North Chungcheong Province said, "All private universities in my area failed to meet their student quotas and admitted applicants who did not even take their university entrance exam. What's the point of going to such university?"

    Cho Young-tae at Seoul National University said, "The accelerating population decline has caused provincial universities to admit anyone who applies. Their existence will be threatened further as more and more students seek to enter universities in the Seoul metropolitan area."

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