Students protest against college ranking surveys

September 23, 2014

The Korea University Student Union (KUSU) launched a campaign on Monday urging schools to boycott the surveys. (Yonhap)

By Jung Min-ho

Students from some of Korea’s top universities ― Seoul National University, Yonsei University and Korea University ― are protesting college ranking surveys by major newspapers, saying the ranking systems emphasize the wrong things and ultimately make higher education more expensive.

The Korea University Student Union (KUSU) launched a campaign on Monday urging schools to boycott the surveys, claiming the resulting lists, “kill diversity in schools and get them obsessed only with short-term performance.”

The group notably targeted the JoongAng Ilbo, a media outlet that has been ranking universities since 1994. Its competitors, the Chosun Ilbo and the Dong-a Ilbo, also have university evaluation systems.

“We should not accept the rankings,” the KUSU said in a statement. “This is necessary to protect universities from any attempt to undermine the essence of higher education.”

The representatives of the three schools are now arranging their schedules for street campaigns and press conferences, which are expected to be held sometime next week, according to a KUSU official.

“It was one of the key pledges of this student council,” the official told The Korea Times. “We have collected data on the issue. We are planning to disseminate it more actively, beginning next week, in cooperation with students from the other two schools.”

In the 2013 JoongAng Ilbo Korean University Rankings, Korea University ranked fourth.

“We believe such rankings are one of the reasons behind rising tuition fees, as many schools waste so much money on areas where they think they can improve their scores,” a KUSU official was quoted as saying. “The worst part is that schools lose their longer-term perspective in doing so.

“In fact, many factors on which universities are evaluated, such as rates of employment after graduation and how much money and the schools’ number of international students, have little to do with academics.”

This is the first time that any student council in Korea has lodged an official protest against university ranking systems.

In theory, if college presidents refused to provide the rankers with detailed information about their schools, ranking them would be very difficult.

In 2012 in Germany, 300 economics scholars signed an open letter of protest denouncing the actions of business newspaper Handelsblatt, which ranked academics on the basis of the number of papers they had published.

Also in 2012, James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, refused to participate in the World University Rankings, which publishes an annual table of the top 500 universities in the world, because it believed the ranking body was biased against small specialist universities.

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