|Honam University in Gwangju City recently announced to provide incoming freshmen with electronic gadgets such as Airpods and smartphones. / Courtesy of Honam University|
By Lee Hyo-jin
Provincial universities are struggling to recruit new students amid a steady decline in the college-age population, according to the schools and an opposition party lawmaker, Tuesday.
As more students are choosing to enter universities in Seoul and its surrounding areas, schools in the provinces are desperately trying to come up with new strategies to attract new faces.
Honam University in Gwangju recently vowed to provide electronic devices such as Airpods and smartphones worth 550,000 won ($481) to the incoming freshmen who pass the non-scheduled admission, also known as the rolling admission.
"Like many other universities outside the capital, we are desperate to bring more talented students to our school. Since we are currently concentrating on developing our AI department, we decided to give the new students electronic gadgets," an official at the university told The Korea Times.
Other colleges including Kaya in South Gyeongsang Province, Daeduk in Daejeon and Dongyang in North Gyeongsang Province have announced 1 million won scholarships for freshmen.
But the upcoming 2021 academic year will seemingly be especially tough for the universities as it is the first year on record in which college applicants are outnumbered by available places.
Universities and colleges nationwide are expected to offer places for 490,655 freshmen in 2021, however, only 479,376 of high school third-graders and CSAT re-takers are expected to apply for admissions, data from the Ministry of Education showed.
"Although our university hasn't experienced big problems due to a lack of applicants, we are taking the current situation very seriously. We need more funding support from the government in order to maintain our relatively low tuition fees, which many of our students see as a plus compared to other private colleges," said the head of the admissions office at Pusan National University.
In the 2020 academic year, the national university had 75 percent of its successful candidates give up registration to enter other colleges, according to data released by lawmaker Kim Byung-wook of the main opposition People Power Party.
Kim added that provincial universities are also having difficulties with retaining students until graduation, citing that Kyungbook National University saw 2,973 dropouts from 2015 to 2019, 95 percent of whom said they quit to transfer to another university.
The situation is similar in Pusan, Chungnam and Chonnam national universities, in which approximately 500 students drop out every year.
"Provincial universities are losing their students to schools in Seoul and the metropolitan area. The state should provide them with supportive measures such as expanded funding or an enhanced research environment to raise their competitiveness," said Kim.