According to the Framework Act on Education, students are ensured basic human rights in the education curriculum, and guaranteed the rights which are necessary in other learning processes. The most central area of these students’ rights is probably to take classes. However, as the university’s policy and government decisions collide with each other and as the overwhelming influx of foreign students causes problems, the basic “study rights” of these students have come to be violated. Under these circumstances, The Konkuk Bulletin will look at the current educational environment of Korea’s universities and focus on the right way to lessen the inconveniencies of students at Konkuk University.
1. The current status of the education environment of university students
a. Other universities
The student councils at each university and the individual students have raised a question about the violation of the right to learn from the past to present. However, in just a few years, as the problems like the significant decline in the number of lectures became outstanding, the violation of the right to learn is now the hot potato. For instance, according to students in the department of Social Sciences in the MIRAE campus of Yonsei University, the lack of full-time professors has caused a shortage of major classes and created loopholes in the management of students. Students at that campus are strongly insisting on hiring more professors.
In addition to this, in the cases of universities in provincial cities, the problem caused by the influx of foreign students is now the main concern. Local universities attract foreign students indiscriminately to overcome the crisis of the university’s financial problems. It is because the number of school aged children declined significantly since the early 2000s as a result of Korea’s low birth rate. As a result of the influx of foreign students, there were more students who wanted to get into the lecture than the capacity of it and many of both Korean and foreign students failed to attend the lecture. Moreover, some of the foreign students do not satisfy the fundamental academic ability criteria, so the quality and atmosphere of the lecture is deteriorating. As a consequence of this, one of the school authorities said that if they do not bring in even more foreign students, there will be a number of departments that close their doors. As a result, they have no other choice but to bring them in regardless of the qualifications of the foreign students.
As mentioned earlier, there were many violations of the right to learn. KU students also had similar problems as mentioned above.
b. Konkuk University
At KU, like other schools, the violation of the right to learn has become a serious issue because of various reasons. Among them, the lack of lectures and the excess number of students in the charge of full-time faculty has been found to be the most serious. For example, one of the professor in the College of Liberal Arts said, dozens of e-mails were sent every day during the course application period because of the limited capacity of lectures. This has resulted in large numbers of students unable to take even the required courses for their major or graduation during the course period. In addition to this, some seniors at the Konkuk Institute of Technology (KIT) sent out a complaint about the lack of lectures. One of them was to graduate this semester so he had to attend a liberal arts culture class to achieve that. However, there was no room for him to attend so he had to pay and buy a lecture fee of 50,000 won. He knew it was unfair, but he had to pay it because there was no other way.
In 2019, KU has 15,933 students, which is a similar number compared to Seoul National University (16,556) and Hanyang University (16,142). However, the total number of lectures offered is 2,637, showing a gap of at least about 500 to 900 classes compared with the top three universities in the table below.
2. Causes of the infringement of learning rights at KU
(1) Exceeding the number of students in the charge of full time faculty
According to Higher Education in KOREA1), in 2019, there are 21,997 undergraduates and graduate students and 716 fulltime faculty professors, showing a 68.13 percent full-time professor secured rate. In the case of undergraduates alone, a full-time faculty professor is in charge of about 31 students. The reality, however, is that the burden of the number of students for each professor has increased. The number of students in the charge of full-time faculty in KU is larger than those at Seoul National University and Hanyang University. Such an increase of the number of undergraduates in the charge of full-time faculty will make it less likely that they can offer high quality lectures to students. This is because faculty members at the university are obliged to research and publish papers as well as provide lectures to the undergraduates.
Opinion of KIT professors: the adequate number of students in charge of a full-time faculty
A professor who is in charge of a chemistry subject pointed out the problem of large scale lectures. When he lectured 58 students, he could not judge whether students understood the content properly. Professors including him said that it is the most effective to have fewer than 40 students to correctly deliver what professors want to say.
(2) Excess inflow of foreign students
Due to a decline in the number of school-age students caused by the low birthrate, most universities are trying to attract students from other countries like China and Southeast Asia. KU is no exception from this phenomenon attracting students from many countries. In some departments of local universities, the number of foreign students is higher than the number of students from Korea. The government is also speeding up the process of “Globalization of Campus” of universities, aiming at attracting 200,000 foreign students by 2023. The problem is that due to the increase in the number of foreign students the capacity of the lectures for students has been surpassed, leading to Korean students failing to apply for classes. However, the foreign students who also came to Korea to study must not be the key reason for this problem. Fundamentally, it is the problem of the university which did not expand the number of the lectures after attracting foreign students.
b. External factor
(1) The occurrence of professor-unlocated lectures after the enactment of the Instructor Act
After the enactment of the Lecturer Law on August 1, 2019, lecturers of a total 292 subjects still were not assigned until the first lecture basket2). They would register all the lecturers and lecture plan before the second basket period, but about 30 subjects were still not assigned after the due date. This has led the problem of randomly choosing a lecturer or professor, infringing on the right of students to choose lecturers who are appropriate for them through the curriculum and lecture plan.
Since 2010, the treatment of part-time lecturers has become a serious social problem, and the government enacted the Instructor Act to ensure the employment stability and treatment of university instructors. The bill went into effect on August 1, 2019 and is currently in effect. According to the content, part-time lecturers will be recognized with a new status, that of “instructor”while the university also retains the traditional positions of professors, associate professors and assistant professors, and will be guaranteed reappointment for three years.
3. The direction of the KU to overcome the current situation
The future direction of the university in view of the issue of violation of the right to learn at KU was revealed through an interview with the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA). First of all, in the case of exceeding the number of students in the charge of full time faculty, it is a major issue which the university is striving to improve for its competitiveness, and is said that the university itself will make more efforts to secure full-time faculty members to reach the level of other universities.
Next, the occurrence of unallocated professors of the lectures after enactment of Instructor Act was inevitable because the second semester of this year was the first application of Instructor Act in the university. Previously, the Ministry of Education ordered the university to have an open recruitment for full-time faculty. However, as the addition of a subsection that the open recruitment should also be carried out for non-full-time faculty members, a lot of confusion resulted. This confusion occurred not only at KU but also at other universities such as Seoul National University and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. For the upcoming first semester of 2020, KU will hire lecturers before the lecture basket period, as it did before the enforcement of the Instructor Act, which will reduce the inconvenience for students.
Lastly, the problem of failing lecture enrollment caused by excessive inflow of foreign students is basically a problem of insufficient volume of popular courses. Therefore, KU will seek ways to increase the quota and solve the problem through discussions with related departments.
The reason why students are so sensitive to the infringement of their right to study is that their career and employment have begun to be greatly influenced by the quality of their school’s lectures. The infringement of learning rights so far are not limited to KU, but to all universities. Although there are still many problems, it is necessary to improve the educational environment of students to develop the quality of the school, so KU should take a serious look at solving the problem.
Park Jin-hong, Junior Reporter email@example.com
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