At S. Korea’s top university, more and more students from a few privileged backgrounds

Posted on : 2016-03-17 16:43 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Data show students from affluent neighborhoods and specialized or private high schools overrepresented
Percentage of SNU students from Gangnam
Percentage of SNU students from Gangnam

The admission examination for Seoul National University (SNU) this year was dominated by students from three specific backgrounds: special purpose high schools, autonomous private high schools, and general high schools in the three districts making up Seoul’s Gangnam district.

The percentage of successful candidates to South Korea’s top university from those backgrounds has risen from 42% in 2013 to 49.1% in 2016.

The phenomenon has prompted some critics to argue that the comprehensive student record screening introduced by the Park Geun-hye administration to “help build student dreams and skills and normalize public school education” has only worked to the special schools’ advantage rather than checking their dominance. The structure is one in which students are unable to prepare on their own for an entrance exam system that requires outstanding grades, extracurricular activities, interview results, and College Scholastic Ability Test scores without resorting to support from their parents, alma mater, and private education.

Data released on Mar. 14 from an analysis of successful candidates registered at SNU between 2013 and 2016 showed the percentage of students hailing from special purpose high schools - including science high schools, science academies, and foreign language high schools - and from national and metropolitan autonomous private high schools rising from 32.9% in 2013 to 40.9% in 2016. The analysis was carried out by former Association of Matriculation Counseling Teachers co-representative and current Daejeon Daeseong Middle School teacher Kim Dong-chun at the behest of Minjoo Party of Korea lawmaker and National Assembly Education, Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee member Kim Tae-nyeon.

The findings also showed the percentage of students from general high schools (including autonomous public high schools) plunging from 60.3% to 51.9% over the same period. Arts, physical education, and specialized high schools accounted for just 7.2%.

General high schools in the three Gangnam districts that have high concentration of private education facilities, which have traditionally rivaled the special purpose and autonomous private schools in entrance exam success, dipped slightly from 9.1% and 8.1% over the period from 2013 and 2016 - a slighter drop than experienced by other general high schools. The representation rate for Gangnam high schools in rolling admission rose slightly from 6.5% to 6.7%.

Special purpose and autonomous private high schools and Gangnam-area general high schools are typically seen as being difficult to enter without social and economic support from parents.

In total, 75.5% of candidates from the Seoul area came from special purpose high schools (32.3%), autonomous private high schools (22.2%), and general high schools in the three Gangnam neighborhoods (21.0%).

With the special schools dominating admission, just 812 other high schools around the country produced at least one successful SNU candidate for 2016. As of 2015, there were 1,799 high schools in South Korea, not including vocationally oriented specialized and Meister high schools.

“It‘s worrisome when the alma mater gap in SNU admission has grown to this degree,” said Sangmyung University finance and economics professor Kim Young-chul, who previously published a 2012 report titled “The Growing Matriculation Gap and Ideas for Increasing Equality of Opportunity” on the dominance of Seoul-area special purpose and Gangnam high schools during his time at the Korea Development Institute (KDI).

“That gap is likely to be even larger if we look at all the top-ranking universities together,” he predicted.

Kim also observed that the gap is resulting in “the private education competition for high school admission creeping down to the elementary school level.”

“It appears that our current university entrance policies are regressing in terms of increasing social mobility and expanding equality of educational opportunity,” he said.

Experts also said the trend appears to be accelerating as comprehensive student transcription screening becomes an integral part of admission.

“If we focus our assessment on extracurricular activities like intramural contests, reading, and clubs, that can exacerbate skewing along class lines because it reflects differences in cultural capital according to the parents’ socioeconomic status,” said KDI researcher Kim Hee-sam.

“We need proactive policy measures like quota systems to prevent student potential from being judged unfairly because of situational factors,” Kim said.

By Jin Myeong-seon, staff reporter

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