Scholars have hailed a sweeping move by a major South Korean university to pivot its undergraduate degree programs from those based on narrow majors to broader interdisciplinary programs.
The plan, which would shift Seoul National University (SNU) from its decades-old admissions practices, involves future entrants not following a specific major but rather undertaking a broad program in line with their academic interests, according to reports.
Academics said the pivot would help the university, which was founded in 1946, stay relevant as it becomes increasingly important for graduates to acquire a wide range of skills to distinguish themselves in a rapidly changing world. .
Jae-Eun Jon, an associate professor of education at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said breaking down barriers set by majors was “the ultimate path we need” for higher education.
She noted that SNU already has experience running interdisciplinary studies through its College of Liberal Studies, one of its 16 undergraduate colleges.
While she did not anticipate the change to hurt SNU admissions, she cautioned that similar changes could present themselves as a struggle for other institutions, with some having already experienced “failure to recruit and retention of students when not initially assigned to certain majors or departments. ”.
David Tizzard, assistant professor of Korean studies at Seoul Women’s University, agreed the move was a step in the right direction.
“I think what we are seeing is positive. People are trying to make changes and reform the Korean education system,” he said.
According to Professor Tizzard, the pivot is a sign that universities recognize that “this new environment requires new skills” and “talented individuals capable of demonstrating individuality, creativity, technological expertise and a broad understanding of the world”.
While the verdict was on whether the SNU overhaul would ultimately benefit the university and its students, he said he “applauds” the administrators for trying something new.
Jun Yoo, a professor in the Department of Korean Language and Literature at Yonsei University, echoed that sentiment.
“I give credit to SNU [for] trying to shake off the proverbial beehive, and hope it can generate a healthy conversation about how to build a more equitable place for higher education…reorganizing departments [and or] majors is not a bad idea if the main goal is to train students in critical thinking and empower them to think innovatively,” he said.
“I think in the spirit of trying to find new ways to improve the program – for example, having all students take humanities courses in the first year – it’s a start. .”
But he, too, noted the need for broader higher education reforms in South Korea, which currently boils down to a “high-pressure treadmill” that begins long before the university, with the widespread use of “private “.hakwonthe “deeply troubling” cram schools.
“This type of system doesn’t train students to think critically and creatively, and those with the financial means always end up having an advantage,” he said.
A more radical overhaul of Korea’s education system is expected, starting with secondary education, Professor Yoo continued.
“Building such a system requires major changes by reforming skewed admissions policies at the secondary level,” he said.