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A University Degenerated into a CorporationA Look at how Universities have become Subordinate to the Market Economy System of a Capitalistic Society
Yang Se-young  |  worldyang@hanyang.ac.kr
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[320호] 승인 2013.12.04  
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University inherently served as an autonomous sanctuary of learning. In recent years, however, a number of universities have been commercialized and even merged into corporations. It makes universities' original role weaker and causes numerous side-effects; an absence of pure studies. decline of students' voice, and financial burden of students. The Hanyang Journal looked through the dark side of commercialization of universities.           

- Ed.

▲ Banners related to state examinations and recruitment of Hanyangians are posted at Hanmadang, next to Palpal Stairway. These banners show how the university is corporatized as they see intellectual outcome as products which reaps profits.


 The Department of Korean Language and Literature of Pai Chai University(PCU), where the pioneer of Hangeul Studies, Joo Si-kyeong and national poet, Kim So-wol graduated,  was abolished this year. The university declared that the decision had been made due to the low employment rate of its graduates in the Department of Korean Language and Literature.
While it might be understandable to accept that a company that is unprofitable is doomed to close, there is a growing concern over the current trend for universities to merge or dissolve their departments as a result of employing this kind of market system principle.
Universities were originally founded as public institutions where verities and enrichment of one’s knowledge were pursued. “University education is not only a means for the development and dissemination of new knowledge to society but is also way for us to better scrutinize the problems in society. By doing so, we can determine whether society is going in the right direction,” explained Park Joo-ho, a Professor in the Department of Education at Hanyang University(HYU). Nevertheless, as more and more universities act in accordance with the market economy system, they are being accused of failing to perform.
How the Meaning of University has Changed over Time
An institution of higher learning, commonly referred to as a “university” today, is the product of Western culture which dates back to Europe in the 12th century. Initially, it was an autonomous community organized by professors and students where they could exchange ideas with one another. Moreover, through discussions, these universities since the middle ages had an academic tradition of encouraging debate.  
On the other hand, the trend of marketization of universities in Korea first began during the Kim Yong-sam Administration in 1995. “As the ideology of capitalism started to dominate society during the 18th and 19th centuries, culture and society as a whole began to focus more on the accumulation of capital. In the case of Korea, the ideology of neo-liberalism which emphasizes the ideology of capitalism and utility permeated society in the 1990s,” commented Shin Syng-hwan, a Professor in the Department of Philosophy of The Catholic University of Korea, who wrote a column called The Corporatization of Universities and the Death of Academics.Following this trend, former President Kim Yong-sam introduced the 5·31 Educational Reform in support of privatizing national universities, liberalizing the prices of tuition, and the opening up of education to the marketplace. “The commercialization of Korean universities is a result of accommodating the American university system without any social deliberation on what a university stands for and what kind of role it plays in society in Korea,” said Seo Bo-myung, a Professor in the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, in his book called Collapse of University.


 Students' Protest Against Commercialization of Universities

 “Today, I quit, no, I refuse university.”

▲ Students reading the hand-written poster by Kim Ye-seul, declaring her refusal on the university. (Contributed by Kukey)

In March 2010, Kim Ye-seul, a former student in the School of Business Administration  of Korea University, posted a hand-written poster bemoaning the current state of universities which are more concerned with being competitive, focusing on the employment rate of students.

 “I realized that the university is trying to tame students with money.”

▲ Roh Young-soo fighting against Doosan, which took over CAU. (Contributed by Pressian)

In April 2010, Roh Young-soo, who was a student in the Department of German Language at CAU climbed up a tower crane on campus. The reason for his act was to oppose the one-sided decision of the univeristy to restructure the school system, which included abolishing some departments. After Roh's demonstration, the university tried to expel Roh for his demonstration buth Roh filed a lawsuit against the university and won. However, after losing the case, CAU suspended Roh from school.


The Present Condition of Universities in Korea

    As the industrialization of universities is making rapid progress, the education industry is flourishing. “Corporatized universities see intellectual outcomes as products that reap profits. For this reason, research and education are losing their original function and are degenerating into a level of merchandise,” opined Kim Nu-ri, a Professor in the German Language and Literature Department of Chung-Ang University, who published a paper on the corporatization of universities titled, University that Sold its Soul: Corporalization University and Crisis of Academic Community.
    As a result, there has been a surge of universities in Korea that are adjusting to meet the practical needs of their students. Although this might sound favorable, a distinction should be made between “pure studies” and “practical studies”. Practical studies can be applied to real life in order to achieve  economic gain while pure studies do not directly contribute to productivity or actual economic profit. “Studies such as Philosophy, History, or Humanities are considered impractical major and as such, they do not generate capital. For this reason, as we are in a capitalistic society, people are starting to view these areas of studies as useless. This is what we are calling the ‘crisis of pure studies,’” said Professor Shin. Subsequently, HYU developed the “Seven Diamond” departments of practical studies which are expected to play a major role in the advancement of society. Some of the departments included in this program are the Department of Electric Engineering and the Department of Policy Science. For instance, the Department of Electric Engineering, as one of the “Diamond” Departments, is able to provide all of its students with full scholarships, a specialized English education program, and employment opportunities with large companies that are cooperating with HYU.
Universities have become affiliated with major companies by hiring executives as their. Samsung, which took over Sungkyunkwan University(SKKU) and Doosan, which acquired Chung-Ang University(CAU) are well-known examples that reveal the corporatization of universities. “These cases started the momentum for spreading the idea of recognizing university education as a ‘product,’” declared Professor Kim.
    Also, the overall reduction of independent student bodies and student press associations followed. As these organizations are not particularly related to the commercial interests of universities, administrative support has been reduced. In the case of The Hanyang University Press for example, the circulation size of the newspaper has been reduced from 12,000 to 8,000 over the past four years. “However, the school press at HYU is not as severe. It was shocking to hear how other universities have been withdrawing support for the student press,” commented Lee Hee-jin, the current Editor-in-Chief of The Hanyang University Press. In the case of The Hanyang Journal(The HJ), the circulation of 8000 in 2008 has been reduced to 3000 at present, and publication has decreased from six times a year to four.  
    Furthermore, the industrialization of universities is a major cause of educational inequality among students in Korea. “As universities start to focus more on profits, the financial capacity of students has become an important factor in considering admissions. Also, as the competition between universities in the higher education market intensifies, it reinforces the hierarchical education system, further widening the gaps among students. This gap is the categorizing of students by their financial statuses because only those who can afford to pay the high tuition of private universities are able to do so comfortable,” said Professor Kim. According to the ranking of university tuition presented by Higher Education in Korea in 2013, the top 50 universities with the most expensive tuition were all private universities. For instance, the average tuition fee of HYU ranks 7th at about 8,380,000 won per year. “When I was a student at HYU, the tuition fee was about 700,000 to 720,000 won  per semester. These days, tuition fees have multiplied to roughly 7 times of what I paid,” said Chung Duk-mook, who started his undergraduate studies in 1980. In contrast to HYU, the current tuition fee average of the University of Seoul, a municipal university in Seoul is only about 1,190,000 won a year, which is even less than the tuition fees of HYU in the 1980s.


Top 10 Tuition Fee of Universities in Korea

▲ The top 10 universities with the most expensive tuition are all private universities, with HYU ranking 7th. (Conducted by Higher Education in Korea)
Problems Arise from University Operations
    As a result of universities following the market economy system, many problems have followed such as the crisis of pure studies, failure to preserve identity, the deterioration and oppression of student organizations and dramatic increases of tuition fees.
    Moreover, a considerable number of universities in Korea are combining their departments or getting rid of those which cover pure studies while investing more in practical studies. As a result, research in pure studies has dwindled. For example, CAU has abolished their Department of Comparative Folklore and instead, newly established the Global Finance of School of Business Administration, the School of Integrative Engineering, and the Department of International Logistics, all of which deal with practical studies. “Pure studies question the meaning of a good society and the direction that society should follow. Of course, things like clothes, food, homes, and money are crucial for people to live.  However, these cannot provide the answer to questions that arise from the inner minds of humans, such as how to establish moral standards or to create values. Only pure studies can suggest answers to these kinds of questions. If such questions are not answered, society is doomed to suffer from devastation consequences and conflicts will frequently occur,” said Professor Shin.
    In addition, the identity of universities is becoming increasingly ambiguous. Deliberate decision-making is being replaced by the more dominant top-down ‘strategic plan’ approach in the school administration, while the participation of professors and students in decision-making processes is being systematically ruled out. This problem can be seen at CAU, which was taken over by Doosan in 2008. After Park Yong-sung, the chairman of Doosan who is also the current chairman of CAU, acquired the university, he started aggressively reforming the school to raise its “efficiency” level. The chairman created an annual salary system and evaluation process of achievements on professors based on their research accomplishments, performance in education, and volunteer work. In response to these changes, many professors of CAU have been opposed to Park’s dogmatic decisions. Professor Kim criticized Chairman Park’s new policies in an interview by Weekly Kyunghyang saying, “Although Chairman Park has the power to appoint and dismiss the president of CAU, directly participating in the management of the university is a problem.”
Another consequence of the marketization of universities is the suppression of the student press and other outlets that served as a medium through which students could express their opinions. Four years ago, on November 25th of 2009, CAU withdrew its 58th issue of the school magazine called “Chungang Culture”, only after three hours the magazines were distributed throughout campus. “It was claimed that the reason for the withdrawal of our 58th issue was we had violated the confirmation procedure by failing to gain approval by the school president before publication. However, the real reason is due to one of the articles titled How A Company Took Over Our University and a cartoon which mocked the president,” said Kang Nam-kyu, a Junior majoring in Political Science and Diplomacy. He was in charge of Chungang Culture from May 2010 to December 2010. Several months after this incident, on January 13th of 2010, CAU implemented measures to cut back on all financial aid provided to the members of the Department of Press Media, which is responsible for Chungang Culture.
▲ Comics published in the 58th issue of Chung-Ang Culture, satiritizing the movement of Doosan taking over CAU.
Moreover, recently at in SKKU, the publication of the 1,552nd issue of The SKKU Weekly was cancelled by the professor editor-in-chief who unilaterally announced the cancellation of the paper despite opposition from the student reporters. After judging an item at the initial editorial conference as inappropriate for publication, the reporters submitted a revised editorial plan dealing with SKKU's shutdown of a conference of scheduled by the Labor Problem Research Association on the same day, which the professor editor-in-chief had also rejected. Instead, the professor demanded students to replace the questionable article with an advertisement and refused further discussions with the student reporters.
Furthermore, the student burden of having to pay high tuition fees has been increasing. Most private schools that are considered competitive in Korean have expensive tuition so students who cannot afford to pay are deprived of the opportunity to have the same “competitive” education. “As many as 87 percent of universities in Korea are privately-owned which means high tuition costs for students. The education of young people should be an issue that the government takes responsibility for. Instead, the government has shifted responsibility to the capitalistic market. Since there is no adequate policy for higher education, students have no choice but to take on the financial burden of being educated,” Professor Kim declared. On this matter, Jang Hye-rim, a Sophomore in the Major in Sociology commented, “Before I graduated from high school, one of my friends gave up on her dream of attending a university in Seoul. Instead, she chose to go to a university that was closer to her home. What made me feel sad was the fact that her parents told her avoid any universities in Seoul, because of their financial limitations.  At that time, she looked frustrated and disappointed because she had already passed the entrance exam of the school she was told not to go to,”


The Current Culture and Understanding Why Society Must Change
The current system of universities in the capitalistic system has many issues to be resolved. First of all, more efforts to protect and encourage pure studies are needed as well as the efforts to reserve the democratic and autonomous culture of universities. In addition, there should be plans implemented to minimize educational inequality. In countries in Europe such as Switzerland and Germany, there are already systems in place that protect pure studies of universities and resolve the educational inequality between students. However, Professor Shin warns that before thinking about adopting these policies, Korean society needs to fundamentally change and improve its culture and ethics. “To seek and implement the proper solution, we need to clearly analyze the problem. If we try to solve problems only through the presentation of new policies, these new policies would most likely fail, because policies cannot succeed without the agreement on cultural awareness of the general public. Therefore, thoughtlessly applying the policies of other countries into our society and neglecting to consider cultural differences will only cause great social opposition,” opined Professor Shin.


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