Saturday, November 21, 2009

Universities should be competitive -but against whom?

Two years ago, one of the foreign teacher liaisons, in describing changes at the university and tightening budgets, brought up Korea's low birthrate.

"Every year there are fewer students available to come to university and our university must fight with the others to get those students and, well, stay alive"  I've put it in quotes and I am sure i have captured his point, but the actual words could be slightly different.

It was clear that we were competing with other Korean universities.

In the Herald, there is an article about universities working to enhance their competitiveness.  I am not sure who they are competing against.

Leaders of some 115 universities gathered at a forum yesterday to discuss ways to enhance the competitiveness of higher education.
The International University Presidents' Forum was held at Ewha Womans University in Seoul to share strategies for university development and improvement of educational quality.
The one-day meeting was organized by the Korean Council for University Education.
"In order to survive the growingly fierce competition among countries, universities should be the heartland for producing talented individuals with multicultural global competences and creative abilities," said Lee Bae-yong, KCUE chairwoman and Ewha president, during her opening address.

So, are universities fighting for their country's honour and standing?   The "enhance the competitiveness of higher education" bit suggests they are competing against not-university; apprenticeships, colleges, early entry to the workforce, even distance education.

In a TedTalk, Ken Robinson described how the current education systems of the world had one goal; creating university professors.  He also stated that most education systems kill creativity.  Perhaps universities could compete in innovation.

I agree with the idea that universities should provide an education, not job-training.  Yet, perhaps we need more focus on jobs and how jobs and businesses actually work at university.  I don't have the answers or suggestions as most of my life has been in education.  Still, I can see that some practical results need to be brought to the university.

I have asked some big questions and have no answers, not even if this is what the conference was all about.

Hmm, The Times has an article about Korea's 'gruesome future' which might be a little relevant.

This article is about Korea's declining and aging population.

The world's lowest birthrate here, when coupled with the highest suicide rate, also tells us something; Korea is becoming a country in which people increasingly find it hard ― and/or unpleasant ― to live. The government's demographic concerns also focus mostly on the shortage of workers or soldiers, failing to delve into the more fundamental causes of the problems.

Just think of it: Who would want to produce children in a country where everything ― entering schools, finding jobs and getting your own home ― must be won through cutthroat competition with the portion of state-provided welfare dwindling year by year?

The second paragraph interests me.  Considering there will be a smaller number of students graduating from high school, why not ease the competitiveness of the university entrance exam?  Why not drop student-professor ratios and encourage students to learn with their professors, rather than in-spite of them (If the 'in-spite of...' confuses you, you haven't taught at university).  A smaller number of students can and should mean a better quality of instruction.  We need to work to make that happen.

Updated on November 23.

From the Korea Times (I am at work and don't have time to comment further - but I did add bolding, if that makes a difference!):

The English portion of the test has once again been attacked as unfair, questions in all parts of the test have been challenged, and no doubt we will again learn of test cheats. Test proctors, too, are accused of failing to monitor tests adequately, or creating disturbances during the testing period.

A testing administrator claimed that the English test was relatively easier this year; yet, test-takers claimed it was harder than the practice questions they got from last year's test.

For those of us who live, teach and study in Korea, we must again ask ourselves: What's going on? How can we fix this mess?

High stakes

Korea's university entrance exam is the ultimate high-stakes test. It is, for some, literally "life or death." Aircraft, trains and, even private businesses adjust their schedules on test day to reduce disruptions to candidates.

Scores from the test day are the sole, or major, consideration for admission in over 75 percent of all Korean universities.

Nearly every high school senior took this test on Nov. 12. Most now feel their high school careers are over despite the fact that the school calendar runs until February.


PAKA said...

good post brian.

kwandongbrian said...

Well, Thanks, Paka.

Daniel Costello said...

Hi Brian,

Why not review my research on Korea's national educational competitiveness?

It will answer many of your queries.

kwandongbrian said...


I am in trouble. I want to work on a Master's degree but I can hardly make head or tail of your research.

Is 'KSF' - Korean Success Factor?

This sentence... , well, I am too old or something:
"While projected applications relevant to cell-phone educational ubiquity currently stand at three to five years in the USA such changes may take longer in Korea due to a climate of uncertainty and estimates that with 27% fewer 18 year olds as of 2006 than 20 years ago enrollments fell at 20% of universities and 95% of junior colleges as of 2005 with nearly one third of all colleges expected to close within the next three years (Brender, 2006)."
"Cell-phone educational ubiquity"...will cause universities to close?
Are you writing about phone-apps that will offer educational content and eventually replace some universities? Then, maybe, I understand.

Daniel Costello said...

Hi Brian,

KSFs are "Knowledge Success Factors" and I only sent a couple of expanded scenarios. Cell phone learning (m-learning) or ubiquitous technologies are factors not entire determinants.

Sorry this one might give you more insight? I was writing on a deadline and text length limits.

Daniel Costello said...

Sorry to confuse you here's another little tidbit.