Access sold to donors

June 29, 2001

A decision by South Korea's Yonsei University to admit students in return for donations has caused controversy in a higher education system that prides itself on egalitarian ideals.

The prestigious private university has been condemned by the government, the public and other universities.

The university is to set aside a number of places in 2002 for the children of the rich and influential. Parents have to donate land or cash equivalent to £1 million to be eligible for a place. Children of the school's alumni such as former presidents will also be eligible.

Kim Woo-sik, president of Yonsei University, said: "The beneficiaries will be the children of those who have made considerable contributions to the development of society and our school alike."

Yonsei contends that it is the only way to solve the financial difficulties of private universities. Government subsidies account for only 4 per cent of funding. In the United States, the figure is 17 per cent and 9 per cent in Japan.

Lee Yong-sun, Yonsei's director of planning, said: "More than 70 per cent of school funds depend on tuition fees."

The government said it could not agree to the idea of colleges "selling" their freshman quota.

A ministry official said: "The system clearly reflects the unfairness of some children entering the university just because of what their parents did."

The ministry is concerned that widespread adoption of the plan would create a two-tier system.

"It is premature to implement the system as of yet, as Korea is still in the infant stage in terms of donation culture, and many students and parents blindly prefer a few top-ranking universities," the ministry said.

The student council opposes the plan. Kim Hyeon-Jeong, vice-president of the council, said financial difficulty was no justification for the system because the university's assets exceeded £1 billion. "What the school should be concentrating on is how to reform its financial structure and clarify where the money is spent," she said.

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