‘Reach for the Sky’ explores pressure to get into South Korean universities

Film shows students studying until 11pm in an effort to win entrance to the country’s three most prestigious institutions

October 14, 2015
South Korea flag

A new documentary has exposed the extreme pressure put on South Korean students to win entry to three of the country’s most prestigious universities.

“Reach for the Sky”, which premiered earlier this month, follows test takers as they prepare for the crucial Suneung exam.

To avoid disturbing examinees, the stock market opens late and planes are grounded, the film explains. Even the police are enlisted to make sure students get to the test centres on time.

But only a tiny fraction of test takers will achieve their goal – entrance to ‘SKY’, an acronym for Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University, seen as a gateway to a prestigious career and high social status.

In one scene, a student says: “I want to go to a good university. I don’t think studying is as important as going to a good university.”

Asked why, he responds: “It’s not my choice. All my life, society’s pushed me to go to a good university.”

In another, a female student says that “an educational system that only focuses on getting into university isn’t that bad. But studying until 11pm each night isn’t right, especially when you’re a teenager.”

Reach For the Sky trailer from visualantics on Vimeo.

There have long been concerns that the pressure to reach top universities in South Korea – which has one of the highest enrolment rates in the rich world – is bad for young people in the country. Some economists view the level of higher education in South Korea as unnecessary, and argue it has simply become an expensive sorting mechanism to assign people their place in society.

The documentary, which premiered at the Busan International Film Festival, was co-directed by the South Korean Choi Wooyoung and Belgian Steven Dhoedt. 

david.matthews@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Worried man wiping forehead
Two academics explain how to beat some of the typical anxieties associated with a doctoral degree
A group of flamingos and a Marabou stork

A right-wing philosopher in Texas tells John Gill how a minority of students can shut down debates and intimidate lecturers – and why he backs Trump

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy