Higher education in Korea becoming increasingly polarized

Posted on : 2013-01-25 15:50 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Data shows that students from well-off backgrounds are over represented at prestigious universities

By Park Soo-jin, staff reporter

The majority of students currently enrolled at prestigious universities such as Ewha Womans University, Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), and Korea University come from affluent families within the top 20% income bracket, statistics show. As polarization of education according to income gradually becomes more severe, some are suggesting the need to take some kind of action.

On Jan. 24, Ahn Min-seok, lawmaker for the Democratic United Party (DUP), received a document from the Ministry of Education Science and Technology that analyzes the family income of applicants for the government scholarship in the first semester of 2012 (excluding vocational schools and distance education). According to the document, more than half of students who applied for government scholarships at 11 universities including Ewha, Seoul National University of Education (SNUE), POSTECH, Korea University, Gyeongin National University of Education (GINUE), and Seoul National University (SNU) were in the eighth highest income bracket or above.

The income bracket system divides all households into ten brackets, numbered from 1 to 10, with higher brackets corresponding to higher income. The eighth income bracket, according to 2012 standards, applies when the household’s converted yearly earnings exceed 53,710,000 won (US$50,257).

In the first semester of 2012, 1.53 million students out of the 2.04 million (75%) enrolled at 336 universities across Korea applied for government scholarships. The government scholarships are intended for people in the seventh income bracket and below.

The rate of application is high because each university strongly encourages students to apply for the scholarship. Students who do not apply are very likely to be those in the high income brackets or those whose grades were extremely poor in the previous semester. For these reasons, the income bracket of students who apply for the government scholarship serves as an important index for guessing the income level of university students overall.

The data shows that the university with the most students in the eighth income bracket or higher who applied for the government scholarship was Ewha Womans University. At Ewha, 59.6% of applicants for the scholarship were in the eighth income bracket or above. Ranking just below Ewha were SNUE (57.6%), POSTECH (55.9%), Korea University (54.8%), and GINUE (54.2%).

The percentage of government scholarship applicants in the eighth income bracket or above was also higher than that of students in the first to seventh income brackets at SNU (52.9%), Sogang University (52.2%), Hongik University (51.1%), and Yonsei University (50.8%). Of the 11 universities in which scholarship applicants in the eighth income bracket or above exceeded 50%, eight were located in Seoul.

These statistics show just how severe the polarization of education is becoming.

“We already have a lot of evidence that the educational gap according to income is quite serious, such as statistics showing that many high scorers on the college university entrance live in Gangnam,” said Lim Eun-hui, a researcher at the Korean Higher Education Research Institute. “These latest figures show the same thing is happening in university admissions. It’s time for society to try to come up with a solution for income-related polarization of education.”

“Korea’s universities are completely absorbed with choosing ‘excellent students,’ students who graduated from special purpose high schools or who got outstanding scores on the college entrance exam,” said Jang Su-myung, a professor of education policy at the Korea National University of Education.

“But this is not necessarily the case in the US. There, as long as a student is believed to have the potential to handle the studies, universities have active policies in place to give preference and consideration to less privileged applicants. Korean universities should also try to see how much class diversity they can achieve in the student body when they admit students.”

 

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