firmly in place has been confirmed through an abundance of historical evidence.
University Education complying with Capitalist Principles
When I began teaching economics in university in 2002, the year of Seoul World Cup, I found two surprising facts. First, most students lacked energy during class. Since I expected to receive high passion of university students, it was quite disappointing discovery. The dynamic energy that the youth showed in street rooting during the World Cup was in stark contrast to the depressed class atmosphere in university. Second, I was very stunned when I found the students were affected by mass communication more than by school education. When I asked students to conduct research or presentation, they worked on information acquired through newspapers, TV programs and the Internet, instead of looking for applicable real cases based on what they had learnt from class.
I came to learn as time went by that the 2 surprising findings are closely related to each other, revealing the stark reality of Korea's university. Basically most students have turned away from university education for long time, and I only confirmed the reality myself.
Higher presence in university classes
Why do the Korean students who struggled to enter university come to turn their back on the valuable classes? Who are to blame? It is an issue that professors need to think about. In particular, I, as an economics professor, keep pursuing lectures which can awaken my students to society's operational principles, encouraging them to actively participate in my classes, which is not easy though. Although professor's competence is the most significant factor for it, students are also too unfamiliar with lectures requiring their active participation. On the top of that, they think that university classes have nothing to do with their future including their employment.
In short, if is not possible to enhance students' reliability in university class and encourage them to sincerely take part in classes, it is difficult to deliver the class content to them no matter how the content is good. This problem may be related to the recently cited issue, ‘presence of university class'.
They often say that university education lacks presence. However it seems that there is a huge confusion on the meaning of 'presence' that university education should pursues. Does it mean knowledge that students can immediately utilize upon graduating from school? Then, how is university different from vocational school? It should be reconsidered whether university education is focused on practical training. For instance, if the business department where I belong teaches students how to write a letter of credit, one of significant practical works in a trading company, there is no need to go to university for 4 years.
Although many worry that presence of university education is getting lowered, I would like to emphasize education in liberal arts or principles. Knowledge which is immediately required to social activities can be learnt faster in the field. Given that the learning effect can be higher when feeling higher necessity, it will be more efficient to learn things in relevant field. Excessive emphasis on presence focusing on practical business is far from desirable university to develop 21c manpower, I believe.
Autonomy and Responsibility as Operational Principle
Since learning principles is a process for students to learn the way of thinking to be applied to all circumstances, and it is difficult to learn other than in university, university should teach it. The principles include proper mind-set and attitude through which they can develop their adaptability, as well as operational principles of society.
From the perspective, I would like to lay stress on the way of teaching in university. As university class should contain what is required to students' social life after graduation, the class needs to be managed in a similar way to society's operational principles. Among those operational principles, I would like to put priority on autonomy and responsibility. Although many students regard autonomy and responsibility as abstract concept found only in school textbooks, in fact they are core operational principles to serve the keynote of capitalism. Capitalism, or market-centered economy, takes autonomy and responsibility as two significant axes. It is the core of capitalist economy maximizing competence of overall society that each member in society does his best for himself, not for anyone else, and accept the result. Besides, even compliance with rules should be learnt through university education.
Unfortunately most of university freshmen greet their first year in university without a sense of autonomy and inquiry. In the sense, the first year should be regarded as process to conquer heteronomy originating from university entrance examination-centered learning. If they fail to realize in the first year that university is the place where they can solve their curiosity for themselves, they cannot have confidence in the remaining years as well. Based on what they learnt in the first year, they need to acquire basic knowledge in their major in the second year, study specific sectors of their major and apply basic knowledge of their major to wide areas in the third year, and form their own viewpoint on society and make their own work based on accumulated knowledge in the fourth year. In this regard, 4 years in university is not short at all.
There are tons of tasks to be implemented in establishment of such university in society, and universities are making a lot efforts for the change. Yet I will suggest several measures which have not been discussed well so far.
The first step: Flexibility in the Professor Market
In order to enhance quality of university education, flexibility in the professor market, among other things, needs to be enhanced. In fact, university management itself should be close to capitalist operation principles, but the professor community has shown slower changes than any other sectors, given the remarkable changes in other social sectors. Although university classes should encourage students' active participation, through interesting contents showing the dynamic academic world full of active scientific research and discovery and social situations with new issues each day, they thoroughly excluded students, and still compel memorization-oriented education instead of student-led learning. In order to tackle this problem, the number of young professors fresh out of the learning development should be increased, and they should have flexibility in moving to other school proper for their competence. In spite of many discussions on flexibility in the labor market, that in the professor market has rarely been mentioned so far.
Secondly, I propose that the trend of recommendation letters should be more activated. Capitalism can be improved to a higher level based on credit and trust. If the trend property takes root where companies carefully listen to voice of professors who taught their future employees, and professors can write careful and accurate recommendation letters enhancing their confidence, university education will be highly changed as well. Students, for their part, will not be able to easily turn their back on classes by professors who can affect their future employment. The class contents will be also affluent when attended by serious and sincere students.
Finally I would like to point out that the problems in Korean education cannot be addressed only in terms of education. Fundamental principles of capitalism cannot be properly taught when principles, rules and regulations are not be properly observed. The educational field reveals not only future society but also today's society. The older generation needs to realize that students' distrust in class may translates their distrust in society. It is needless to say the older generation should spare no effort to inspire Korean youth with the fact Korean capitalism is still healthy.
Kim Jin-yung (Prof. of economics, Konkuk University, firstname.lastname@example.org)