Changing med school policy has some Seoul parents mulling sending young kids to provinces

Posted on : 2024-03-22 16:43 KST Modified on : 2024-03-22 16:43 KST
Some parents have even filed administrative suits against the government for “reverse discrimination” against Seoul residents
People walk through the campus of a medical school in Seoul on Feb. 6, 2024. (Yonhap)
People walk through the campus of a medical school in Seoul on Feb. 6, 2024. (Yonhap)

New government initiatives in South Korea that would increase the medical school admission cap and allocate 82% of new enrollment slots to schools outside the greater school, as well as increase admissions for local applicants, have caused ripples among parent communities throughout the Seoul metropolitan area. 

Parents of students who are still in elementary school are considering sending their children to study in the provinces to increase their chances of getting into medical school. Some parents have even filed administrative suits against the government for “reverse discrimination” against Seoul residents. 

The lack of concrete details in the government’s policy initiatives — such as standards for student selection and how it plans to keep graduates in the areas they received their education in — coupled with the overwhelming preference for medical school as a career path in the country has touched off a feverish frenzy, particularly at the private academies known as hagwons of affluent Gangnam District.

“Parents of fifth and sixth graders in Seoul’s Daechi neighborhood are calling about sending their kids to study in the provinces. I get at least five or six calls a day,” an employee at a consulting firm that advises on medical school admissions told the Hankyoreh.

The government initiatives for increasing the number of medical school students in the provinces involve admitting more students who graduate from high schools located in the provinces outside the greater Seoul area. From 2028 onward, the additional students will be required to have graduated from middle school and high school in the respective province of the university they apply to. They will also be required to be officially registered as provincial residents. The policies will therefore apply to students who are currently in their second year of middle school and younger.

Since the new policies require a student to have graduated from middle and high school in a respective province, a total of six years, parents are now considering sending their children to study in the provinces to meet this requirement. This will allow their children to be eligible for applications in both the greater Seoul area and in the provinces outside Seoul.

Since the announcement of the government policy on March 20, posts by fretting parents reading, “The government’s new policies for provincial schools have caused us considerable anxiety, and we are even considering moving to the provinces,” and “What’s the point of sending my kids to Daechi hagwons now?” and even “Do I really have to take my kid to the boonies?” have taken over online parent forums in the greater Seoul area. 

Speaking to the Hankyoreh on Thursday, an employee at a consulting firm that advises parents on medical school admissions said, “Many parents in Gangnam and Seocho who want to send their kids to medical school are considering going to the provinces.”

“Some parents have already moved to Gangnam neighborhoods or Dongtan, in Gyeonggi Province, in anticipation of new government policies, and have already enrolled their kids in middle schools in their respective neighborhoods, but even they didn’t anticipate a policy shift of this magnitude. They’re currently practicing their poker faces amid the current situation,” the employee added.   

Some have even narrowed down precisely where they plan to send their kids to school in the provinces. For instance, the Chungcheong area is said to be a promising place to send students, considering that it has two major schools in Chungnam National University and Chungbuk National University, both of which were granted many more seats — 90 additional seats and 151 additional seats, respectively — and that the area is connected to the Gangnam area of Seoul by an SRT line. 

With its own formidable school districts and easy travel to Seoul, some have gone so far as to joke that the city of Sejong is “where you need to go if you want to become a doctor,” and that “1 in 10 families in Sejong will have a doctor in the family.”

At the same time, parents of students in Seoul and its surrounding area have been spurred to action by the government’s plan to allocate more slots for students outside of the capital area, characterizing it as “reverse discrimination.”

Parents, those prepping for college entrance exams, and medical students in the Seoul region filed an administrative suit against the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and Welfare on Wednesday. Submitted to the Seoul Administrative Court, the litigation aims to cancel the government’s medical school enrollment increase and pursuant allocation of seats. The plaintiffs argue that the initiative must be canceled as it puts students in Seoul at a disadvantage. 

“The rage felt by parents in the Seoul metro area is boiling over, and will soon take the form of a class action lawsuit,” said Lee Byeong-cheol, who is litigating the case on the plaintiffs’ behalf. 

By Shim Woo-sam, staff reporter

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