With seat allocations, Korea all but finalizes 2,000-student med school admission cap bump

Posted on : 2024-03-21 17:18 KST Modified on : 2024-03-21 17:38 KST
Korea allocates 82% of new med school seats to colleges outside Seoul metro area
Faculty at Jeonbuk National University Medical School and its attached hospital protest the increase in the medical school enrollment cap from 142 to 200 outside the school’s administration building on March 20, 2024. (Yonhap)
Faculty at Jeonbuk National University Medical School and its attached hospital protest the increase in the medical school enrollment cap from 142 to 200 outside the school’s administration building on March 20, 2024. (Yonhap)

Among the 2,000 additional spots the government is creating at medical schools around the country, 1,639 (82%) will be allotted to medical schools outside the greater Seoul area, while 18% of the spots are reserved for Gyeonggi Province and Incheon. The eight medical schools in Seoul proper will remain at current levels.

Korea’s medical student population, which has been frozen at 3,058 since 2006, is set to jump to 5,058 next year. By announcing the number of students almost ten days before the original timeframe of the end of March, the government has basically nailed down its plan to allow 2,000 more students to enroll in medical school.

But pushback from the medical community is growing, with medical professors at Yonsei University and Korea University demanding that the government rescind its plans. That suggests that the conflict between the medical community and the government will grow even more intense.

Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs and Education Minister Lee Ju-ho announced the government’s detailed plan for medical school placements in the 2025 academic year during a briefing at the central government complex in Seoul on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Education set up a committee composed of officials from the Ministry of Health and Welfare and medical experts who convened on Friday to discuss how the additional medical spots should be distributed. Instead of inspecting each university, the committee based its decision on the universities’ petitions for more placements and materials provided by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

National universities in various provinces received a large share of the new placements. The goal is to develop those medical schools into regional hubs that can support essential medical services in the provinces.

Seven of those universities had placements raised to 200: Kyungpook National University (currently at 110 medical students), Gyeongsang National University (76), Pusan National University (125), Jeonbuk National University (142), Chonnam National University (125), Chungbuk National University (49) and Chungnam National University (110).

However, enrollment at Kangwon National University (currently 49 medical students) was capped at 132 placements, while Jeju National University (40) was capped at 100.

The medical student cap was also increased at smaller medical schools with 50 or fewer students. In Gyeonggi Province, medical placements were doubled to 80 at Cha University (40), and tripled to 120 at Ajou University (40) and Sungkyunkwan University (40). In the city of Incheon, Gachon University (40) saw a rise to 130 placements, and Inha University (49) had placements raised to 120.

Medical school caps were also increased to as much as 120 students at Daegu Catholic University (40), the University of Ulsan (40), Dankook University’s Cheonan campus (40) and Dongguk University’s secondary campus (49). But since the University of Ulsan’s teaching hospital is actually located in the greater Seoul area, critics say that the extra spots there undermine the goal of boosting medical services in the provinces.

The government intends to lead medical schools outside of the Seoul area to increase the percentage of students selected through the “local talent” program to at least 60% (from the current level of 40%). “Rather than making regulations or giving orders, we hope to increase the share through deliberations,” said Lee Ju-ho, the deputy prime minister.

While the goal there is to mitigate the regional brain drain and reinforce provincial medical services, the optional nature of this initiative is raising doubts about its efficacy.

The government’s announcement of its placement allocations essentially formalizes the plan to raise the cap on medical students, eliciting fierce pushback from the medical establishment.

“This is a self-serving decision that will endanger the people’s health,” professors at Yonsei University College of Medicine said in a statement.

Professors at Korea’s “big five” hospitals, including Severance Hospital, have already pledged to submit their resignations on Monday, March 25, and the government’s announcement makes it more likely the medical professors will follow through on the threat.

The Korean Academy of Medical Sciences (composed of associations for 26 specialties, including the Korean Society of Emergency Medicine) released a statement calling for the government to reverse its decision.

By Kim Min-je, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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