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Gov’t insists on quota for CSAT admissions

Oct 26,2019
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye announced a plan Friday to require universities to select more applicants solely based on their standardized test scores, in line with President Moon Jae-in’s abrupt announcement in the National Assembly earlier in the week.

“President Moon deeply felt the people’s sense of helplessness in that educational opportunities have been stratified so as to allow more opportunities for those who are better-off socioeconomically,” Yoo said at a press briefing at the Central Governmental Complex in Seoul Friday. “In a ministerial meeting on educational reform attended by the president earlier today,” she continued, “the participants agreed that bringing about equality in educational opportunities should be the focus of educational reform.”

The reform plan, according to Yoo, will involve requiring universities in Seoul to select more applicants solely based on their College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) scores, known as the normal admissions track.

The early admissions track, on the other hand, places less emphasis on CSAT scores and more on extracurricular activities and other skills demonstrated by an applicant.

“Universities based in Seoul that selected students largely based on their GPA, extracurricular activities and special skill sets, will have to select more students based on their CSAT scores,” Yoo said. “We will be announcing the exact proportion increase [for CSAT-based selections] and when this will start to apply in a separate announcement in November.”

The minister also announced that all autonomous private high schools and foreign language schools will be transformed into regular high schools by 2025.

Autonomous private high schools are financially independent from the government. In return, they are granted more freedom in choosing students, developing their curriculum, and how much they can charge in tuition.

“These high schools have become too focused on getting students into top universities in the country,” Yoo said. “The ministry will be working on converting all of them into regular high schools by 2025 and also improving the quality of education at regular high schools throughout the country.”

Moon spoke of scrapping these schools from his campaign days.

A number of autonomous private high schools have already protested the idea this year, as some of them did not pass a special status test administered by local education offices to maintain their autonomous private high school status.

In the briefing Friday, Yoo also mentioned a plan to help more high-school graduates find jobs. Yoo’s announcement Friday regarding the college admissions system is a sudden departure from her former stance.

On Monday, Yoo said during a parliamentary audit that the ministry will pay attention to improve transparency in the early admissions system, instead of expanding the standardized test score-based regular admissions quota. Then on Tuesday, Moon said in a speech at the Assembly that he will overhaul the college admissions system to improve fairness, stating that the government will come up with a plan to raise the portion of students who are accepted solely on the basis of their CSAT scores.

The proposal was in response to growing public rage toward internships and extracurricular activities that children of the elite have enjoyed. Such opportunities often helped them gain admissions to top universities.

A recent admissions fraud scandal involving Cho Min, daughter of Moon’s key ally Cho Kuk, laid bare the practice, forcing him to step down as justice minister. Moon had also urged the ministry in September to reform the college admissions system.

The education community is split. While some support the idea, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union recently issued a statement to protest such a change.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, PARK HYUNG-SOO [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]