November 14, 2023 13:58
The Education Ministry on Monday published a preliminary list of 10 universities that have been selected for W100 billion each in government aid over the next five years (US$1=W1,325). The project involves W3 trillion in total aid to 30 universities outside Seoul that typically struggle to fill places or attract outstanding faculty. Universities should be at the forefront of innovation but have been stubbornly resistant to reforms even as students numbers dwindled, and the project gives a welcome fillip to those that are willing to change.
The regional universities chosen for "glocal" (for global and local) support were picked based on their reform plans. Kangwon National University and Gangneung–Wonju National University proposed merging and turning their campuses into four specialized colleges in four cities in the province. University of Ulsan is creating programs that harness opportunities offered by the six neighboring industrial complexes. Sunchon National University decided to overhaul its entire organization to focus on three special subjects including smart farming. Most of the picks accepted calls for revolutionary changes by either reducing or reforming their campuses. In addition to the support from the central government, local governments also provide between W25 billion and W180 billion in funding.
Many universities in Korea face a grim future as the population shrinks, and selection for the government project is their last hope of survival. The concentration of top universities in the greater Seoul area is one of the main causes of soaring property prices in the capital region, so the availability of quality education outside Seoul will not only help solve these problems but could even boost the birthrate. Universities play a crucial role in strengthening the self-sufficiency of a region. The ministry said it did not place any importance on geographic location in its selection but focused on how innovative proposals were and how they can spearhead regional development.
But much depends on how these reforms are implemented. Universities that are set to shrink their campuses are already facing fierce resistance from staff. Schools that end up resisting the changes they have promised must be immediately struck from the list and pay back their subsidies. Most of the regional universities that have failed to be selected this time will find it hard to survive on their own. Lawmakers must waste no time passing a law that authorizes the restructuring of private universities so they can be closed down if necessary.
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