Grade ‘inflation’ rampant at top-tier S. Korean universities

May 1, 2015
Seoul National University building (Courtesy of J. Marcelino via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Seoul National University building (Courtesy of J. Marcelino via Flickr/Creative Commons)

By Lee Kyung-min

Nine out of ten university graduates received grades of at least B or above, a government study showed Thursday.

Out of those who graduated in August last year and February this year, 90.9 percent received a at least B, the equivalent of a score of 80 out of 100, the study added.

In the study conducted by the Ministry of Education and Korea Council for University Education (KCUE), 178 universities were analyzed on course evaluation results, tuition, student and professor satisfaction, and student-to-instructor ratio per class.

In addition to graduates, the “grade inflation” problem equally applied to junior students.

Almost 70 percent of university students received a grade B or better this year, the study showed.

Those who received grade A or A plus accounted for 32.3 percent, and 37.5 percent had Bs.

Seven universities awarded more than half of their students with As. They are Seoul National University (SNU), Youngsan, Hanzhong, Calvin, Korea National Sport, Suwon Catholic and Daejeon Catholic.

SNU showed the most inflated grades with almost 83 percent of its students receiving at least a grade B, followed by Kyunghee students at 81.4 percent; University of Seoul students with 79.2 percent; and Dongguk students at 77.6 percent.

The longstanding inflation problem shows no signs of improving because “the vicious cycle” looks set to continue amid the prolonged sluggish economic climate, according to experts.

Korea Higher Education Institute (KHEI) research fellow Kim Sam-ho said university seniors in search of employment need good grades on their resumes, and the professors are inclined to award such grades in hopes of helping them succeed.

“All involved parties are trapped, so to speak,” Kim said.

“With fierce competition in the job market ever increasing, it’s all about getting good grades for students,” Kim said.

“The professors know this, and they sympathize with them. But that is not all,” Kim added.

The employment rate is considered a key criterion to receive government subsidies and is another major concern for universities, he added.

“Education ministry subsidies are a critical issue for universities across the board. They know students with good grades are likely to land better jobs faster. So they all share a common interest,” Kim said.

Despite repeated calls from all sectors to revamp the lenient grading system, universities are without power to realize this without giving the appearance of “interference,” another source said.

“Giving grades is almost solely managed by professors. The university cannot enforce any measure against their will other than to encourage fairness,” an university official said.

“The concern of a university being reduced to a grade certifying institution is a decades-old problem,” the official added.

“The students’ putting less faith in learning at universities is at risk. It is a problem without a quick solution.”

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