Crisis of liberal arts in midst of university restructuring
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Crisis of liberal arts in midst of university restructuring
  • Lee Ha-kyung
  • 승인 2014.09.14 20:58
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At the beginning of this year, the national government announced that it would emphasize the importance of liberal arts studies in Korea. The announcement added that new policies dedicated to improve studies in liberal arts will follow.
Nevertheless, critics have pointed out that the government’s plan to nurture liberal arts studies is inconsistent with the university restructuring that is being pushed ahead.The government formed a Liberal Arts Spirit Culture Select Committee under the Presidential Committee for Cultural Enrichment in November 2013. Also, a Liberal Arts Spirit Culture Department (LASC) was founded under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to promote the liberal arts studies in Korea.

Nevertheless, critics have pointed out that the government’s plan to nurture liberal arts studies is inconsistent with the university restructuring that is being pushed ahead.The government formed a Liberal Arts Spirit Culture Select Committee under the Presidential Committee for Cultural Enrichment in November 2013. Also, a Liberal Arts Spirit Culture Department (LASC) was founded under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to promote the liberal arts studies in Korea.

The LASC is expanding enforcement of the existing liberal arts promotion policy by providing open liberal arts lectures for citizens at city libraries and museums. The LASC intends to make specific plans to enhance liberal arts in Korea until the end of 2014.

“We believe that making liberal arts familiar and easy for people is the first step we must take,” said an official of the LASC who wishes to remain anonymous.
Meanwhile, universities insist that the government’s aim of invigorating the liberal arts is only full of empty promises. The latest funding project for universities, which took place in April, required universities to cut their enrollment.
The government suggested the restructuring of universities due to the falling birth rate, which will eventually lead to a decrease in the number of students. While numerous universities are planning to reduce enrollments or close a single department, the majority of those targeted turned out to be liberal arts majors, who have relatively lower employment rates. For instance, Sogang University is merging its philosophy major with its Korean language major starting 2015.
“Our decision was inevitable since we had to satisfy the conditions on the university funding projects that require universities to cut down on enrollment,” said Yoon Yoo-jeong, an official of the Liberal Arts College in Sogang University. “But we guarantee that the students of both philosophy and Korean language majors will receive lectures as good as the lectures given before the restructuring.”
The Ministry of Education (MOE) explains that the ministry is searching for ways to foster liberal arts studies. In fact, in an upcoming specialized project for universities, a National Support track was created just for liberal arts, social sciences and fine arts. Among 900 units that applied for the project, groups from the liberal arts and the social science division covered 43 percent.
“According to the statistics collected by the MOE every year, the number of students who graduate with a liberal arts major does not vary,” said Um Jin-sub, an official of the University Policy Department. “We do not expect university restructuring in liberal arts colleges to lead toward decline in the study of liberal arts itself.”
Meanwhile, universities worry whether separate funding projects to nurture liberal arts will be effective in the long term. They are concerned that the shrinking of liberal arts studies is inevitable due to the tendency in society toward university restructuring targeting liberal arts colleges.
“Recently, the fusion of knowledge is being emphasized more than ever,” said professor Song Ki-jung, the director of Ewha Institute for the Humanities. “Universities must keep on trying to set a better policy to find a balance between restructuring and protecting liberal arts colleges.”


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