Thursday, April 17, 2014

Elite South Korean University Rattled by Suicides (NYT, 2011)

(Following summary is not merely the summary of what I posted for the lecture today, but also includes my own thoughts on the situation of public research university in South Korea. Please enjoy this, and sorry for the late posting)

This article, published in the New York Times in 2011, is about serial suicides in KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), which is one of the most prestigious research universities in South Korea. Author traces the reason for multiple suicides of students and professor from the changing university policy, such as 100% English spoken lecture, penalty tuition fee policy.
           For the background, which is not very clear in this article, KAIST is originated from two institutions, KIST and KAIS – two elite-centered science research and education facilities founded by President Chunghee Park, military man who seized his presidency of South Korea from 1962 to 1979 and lead enormous economic development of country. With authoritarian and technocratic perspective, he believed that high-end research university which can produce the professional researcher for industry could elevate the economic status of South Korea, and KAIST is the legacy of his regime. Still, the logic of economic development by industrial firms with advanced scientists and engineers is widely spoken in the science and technology policy arena in South Korea, and KAIST in at the center of the structure as an elite public university which obligates to produce the best scientists and engineers for industry, and consequently for the economic development of nation. Historically, numerous researchers in Korean large conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai, and LG look to support this logic; however, we are facing new wave of neoliberal policy and globalization.
           According to the article, Nam-pyo Suh, Carnegie-Mallon trained engineer and past dean of the department of mechanical engineering of MIT for more than a decade, became a president of KAIST in 2006, and adopted his new policies which “aimed at modeling KAIST after MIT and other world-class science and research universities.” For the purpose of excellence, 100% of lectures opened in KAIST began to be taught in English, even Korean history and Korean writing class, and students who had the GPA lower than B (3.0) were enforced to pay additional ‘penalty’ tuition fee.
For him, the reason to initiate these harsh policies for the excellence of KAIST was simply from the history of KAIST. In surface, underlying belief of these policies were 1) raising the excellent student in globalizing world was imperative for the industrial firms and economic development of nation, and 2) competence among the students under the harsher environment would reward them with better knowledge and skill for their own future career.
           Thus, the story of KAIST is the cross road of many changes in current academia. The relationship between the industry and university is becoming tighter than before, South Korean context of government-led economic development model is still alive, and the goal of education is now to meet the ‘global standard’ in harsher environment. In South Korea, birth of the research university was historically in the context of government-led economic development model with technocratic linear model belief that elite scientists and engineers would drive the economic development. Now, it is time to ask what will be the future of KAIST, what the ‘public good’ is, and what should be done by KAIST, as a public research university, to meet the needs of public of South Korea in globalizing future.

1 comment:

patrice kohl said...

Wow. A grade penalty fee is harsh.