Regional universities experience student shortage - Korea Times
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Regional universities experience student shortage

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Pusan National University's campus / Korea Times file
Pusan National University's campus / Korea Times file

By Bahk Eun-ji

Lee Ju-young, who graduated from high school in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, in 2020, was admitted to Kangwon National University, a prestigious national university in the province.

But she chose to enter Dongguk University in Seoul, where she was also admitted.

"As a national university, Kangwon is not bad because the tuition is a lot cheaper than Dongguk, and the school is close to my parents' home. But I decided not to attend the school because I was not sure if I could land a good job after graduating from a regional university," Lee said.

"My parents and most of my friends agreed. I think many other high school students in my neighborhood would prefer universities in Seoul too."

Lee's decision is a very common case among students outside of Seoul and its surrounding metropolitan area. Many national universities in other provinces, even prestigious ones, are experiencing a sharp decrease in the number of students. The cause is a combination of the declining birthrate, the lack of infrastructure in other provinces compared to in the capital, and concerns over job opportunities.

According to data recently submitted by the Ministry of Education to Rep. Kim Byung-wook of the main opposition People Power Party, Pusan National University, one of representative universities in Busan, recruited 4,567 students for the 2021 academic year. But 83.7 percent of the successful applicants gave up their positions in the university, presumably in order to go to other universities in the capital.

The percent of applicants giving up their positions at the school shows a generally rising trend: 64.2 percent in 2018, 79.2 percent in 2019, 75.3 percent in 2020 and 83.7 percent this year.

The situation of Kyungpook National University in Daegu is similar, as 86.9 percent of the 4,326 admitted applicants ultimately decided not to enter.

Seniors at Goejeong High School in Daejeon take an academic evaluation test, Oct. 12. Yonhap
Seniors at Goejeong High School in Daejeon take an academic evaluation test, Oct. 12. Yonhap

One of the main reasons for this trend is the nation's decreasing school-age population, as the nation's low birthrate emerged as a continuous, major social problem in the mid-2000s. According to the education ministry, the total college entrance quota figure nationwide for next year's school year outnumbers the actual total number of current high school seniors by 80,000.

Also, urban infrastructure and resources are concentrated in the Seoul metropolitan area, so if a student in another provincial area gets admitted to both a university in that region and one in Seoul, they will likely choose the latter because they will have access to more advantages in terms of facilities and amenities for living conveniently (such as cultural institutions and hospitals), as well as job opportunities.

"The main reason that local national universities are failing to meet their entrance quotas is the fact that infrastructure and resources are concentrated in Seoul. Also, compared to private or national universities located in the capital, national universities in the other provinces lag behind in terms of government financial support and various investments," Rep. Kim said.

Schools in provinces outside of the Seoul metropolitan area used to fill the quota by recruiting international students, but the situation became worse after the COVID-19 pandemic, they say.

"So far, regional universities have overcome these difficulties by finding ways to attract foreign students to fill the enrollment quotas, but since the outbreak of COVID-19, attracting students from abroad has also become difficult," said an official from a university in South Gyeongsang Province, who wished to remain unidentified. "The financial difficulties of local universities have become even more difficult."

Bahk Eun-ji

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