After the first establishment of women’s university in 1886, women’s universities have played a significant role in nurturing active female members of society. From when the proportion of women receiving education was lower than 2 percent, women’s univerisities have existed to support women’s education rights. However, as time passes and gender inequlity issue is rarely raised, the existence of women’s universities is coming into question in the era where measurable outcome becomes the prior value.
History of women’s universities’ crisis and attempts to transform to co-ed schools
The new president of Duksung Women’s University, Rhie Won-bok, proposed a plan to become a co-educational school in his inaugural message posted on the school’s website on March 3. In the message, Rhie emphasized that “converting to co-ed is inevitable in this era when competition is accepted as the principle of survival regardless of sex.”
Although Duksung University argues that the proposal was merely the president’s personal opinion and there was no further discussion, the fact that Duksung university, which is known to have difficulties attracting students, brought out the conversion plan rings a bell in the current crisis faced by women’s universities. Women’s universities are all sharing a similar condition of slipping down university rankings noticeably in areas of student preference and financial stability.
However, the crisis theory is not an entirely new phenomenon. The start of the crisis of women’s universities traces back to the 1990s, when it was first suggested that women’s universities may be unnecessary. From this period, women’s universities gradually started to give up their status and converted to co-ed schools.
Firstly, Sangmyung Women’s University changed to co-ed and became today’s Sangmyung University. Then, Sungshin Women’s University integrated into Catholic University of Korea. The merging of Hyosung Women’s University with the Catholic University of Daegu, and the conversion of Busan Women’s University into Silla University followed. The series of switches and merges were the results of a trend that prefers co-ed schools to women’s universities.
Currently, only a total of seven schools have been able to preserve its status as a four-year women’s university. The surviving women’s universities are Ewha, Duksung, Sookmyung, Sungshin, Seoul, Dongduk and Kwangju Women’s University. And yet, despite the passage of time, difficult situations have not lessened and proposals to become coeducational are still being raised.
“I bet most women’s universities have considered converting to co-ed schools at least once,” said an official of Seoul Women’s University who wishes to remain anonymous. “It is the reality that such concern is unavoidable.”
Thus, the problems of women’s universities listed above directly relate to one question: Are women’s universities not needed in contemporary society? Yet women’s universities have kept their own traditions and values for so long. What are their methods that enabled them to survive through all these years? And what has posed a threat to them? What would be their next strategies for survival?