On July 28, students at Ewha Womans University began protest demonstrations at the main building of the university in opposition to the founding of the Light Up Your Future in Ewha College (LiFE) continuing education program with no signs of letting up. On July 30, only two days after this incident, 1,600 police officers were dispatched at the president’s request in an unprecedented action that angered alumni and professors who demanded her resignation. Even though the administration has since withdrawn the LiFE plan, the conflict has continued to intensify in many aspects.
This incident has revealed different visions of society. Ewha’s current students and many of their alumni have expressed concern the university only cares about increasing revenue through the LiFE program, while outsiders have viewed Ewha students’ hostile reaction to continuing education students receiving degrees at their university as elitism.
But the cause of the situation at Ewha is basically the bureaucratic vision of the Ministry of Education using financial support as collateral for the heteronomous belief in the Ministry of Education’s Higher Education Policy and their rushed implementation.
On the other hand, continuing education colleges (and their critics) promoted by the Ministry of Education in the wake of this crisis is a chance to think seriously about the implications of the criticism business itself. This is because while many experts have pointed to the Ministry of Education’s unilateral college financial aid projects and university management’s inability of its leadership to communicate as the root causes of the crisis, they also recognize the need for the criticism business itself.
It is time for our citizens to change their perception of the university, especially in our aging society where the importance of adult retraining is being emphasized as is the door to the “knowledge sharing” era, developing people of various social classes.
A model of adult colleges operating within an institution is Harvard University. Harvard offers twelve degree courses at its Extension School, which has developed into one of the largest colleges with 4,000 to 10,000 students annually. Learners range from 18 to 89 years old. Consider the convenience for working adults to learn in a variety of teaching settings such as evening classes, online courses, and weekend courses. In addition, the University of Chicago’s Graham School or the United Kingdom Warwick’s Center of Lifelong Learning (CLL) is also considered a model of adult learning.
Considering the demand of the times and flow, the business of critics promoting our country’s Ministry of Education has its significant meaning. 4-year colleges absorb continuing education systems to reflect high school graduates over 30 years old with 3 or more years of employment experience regardless of SAT exams, and these continuing education colleges support business personnel focusing on industrial demand and a positive line of business with its own means to support academic work retroactively.
However, the problem is admittedly the planning mentioned earlier for these projects, which also means even more hasty implementation. Essentially the business of critical social debate has pushed the hastily proposed plans in the university without consensus between members causing the situation we’re witnessing. Giving people a formal university degree for a college education is to change the identity of the university. For a stable reorganization of the university, consent of the interested parties should have been obtained. Rather than being led by the Ministry of Education, a university should have a philosophy and a code of social responsibility that they should have been developing themselves. Then the role of the Ministry would have rather been to focus on promotion to the general public. Critics shouldn’t have only participated in business related to university but opened doors for those who prepare for the second life in our aging society. Changing the paradigm of a university, gaining social interest, and forming public opinions were the first things to have been done.
However, the Ministry seeks to achieve the policy goals they have set up as a one-sided use of the carrot and the stick of “money” and “university evaluations” that attracts money while hindering the actual achievement of policy objectives. So if you look at the great conflict that took place within the framework of the business of criticism at Ewha Womans University, it is rather close to a collision of unintended consequences. Through university reforms led by the Ministry’s flow of money and university evaluations as a weapon, existing universities seeking countermeasures will be a turbulent landscape that represents Korean universities in 2016.
Unless the government changes its policy of using financial aid as a weapon to force universities to become vocational schools, additional cases like the one at Ewha Womans University will be likely to arise.
Translated by Charles Ian Chun