South Korea is one of the countries with the fastest aging population, birthrates drop even faster than in Western Europe and Japan. The number of high school graduates may soon not be enough to meet annual enrollment targets set up by individual universities.
Radical action is needed in order to maintain the quality and quantity of Korean higher education. Also in other parts of aging Asia, similar actions are taken. In Taiwan for example, the six national universities will merge into three. In Japan, 40 percent of all private universities was not able to fill their student quotas for 2013.
The number of Korean universities increased in the 1990s in response to societal demands for a better-educated workforce. At the same time another problem emerged, some of these new institutions did not meet quality standards. In 2004, the government introduced a restructuring plan to improve underperforming universities.
When a university experiences financial difficulties or does not meet its enrollment targets, the government will cut its funding and push it towards a merger. If necessary, the university might even be closed. Five universities have been forced to close their doors since 2004, while an additional 40 have been restructured. Many of them are regional universities or private colleges in financial trouble.
Government is needed
“Within 10 years, there will be a surplus of 160.000 places on Korean universities,” Kim Jae-Kum, head of the ministry of education stated. Of Korea’s 350 universities and colleges, 118 are in danger of closing within the next ten years. Kim expects that between 30 and 50 universities will really close in the coming years.
During the large restructuring operation it is hoped that the quality of education might improve at the reorganized top universities. There is a concern, that when the reorganization is left to market forces, that regional universities might not survive. Therefore academics plead for the government to take control.