These days when universities’ biggest challenge is university reconstruction and evaluation, the productivity of each school inevitably hinges on its graduates’ employment rate. The competitiveness of the school is not decided by its academic achievements, but rather by how high one’s employment rate is. How high do women’s universities score in this market-driven competition?
Duksung Women’s University was cut off from the government’s subsidy last year after being included among the lowest 15 percent of underperforming universities in a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education (MOE). Although the specific scores of evaluation criteria are not revealed, it is widely suggested that Duksung lost points at the employment rate category. However, it is not the only school that was at risk. According to the release from the MOE, the other two women’s universities situated in Seoul were also listed as the lowest 15 percent of underperforming universities. They only evaded the subsidy cut by accepting the government’s suggestion to decrease 15 percent of the total number of college admissions each year. Overall, half of the women’s universities in the capital city are virtually classified as the bottom 15 percent.
In fact, women’s universities fall behind in the employment rate shown in the data conducted by the Korean Council for University Education. The employment rate of women’s universities is all around 40 percent, with Ewha recording 47.5 percent, Sungshin 46.7 percent, Seoul 46.3 percent, Duksung 45.5 percent and Dongduk 42.5 percent. Compared to the average employment rate of national four-year colleges, 58.6 percent, women’s universities fall behind by more than 10 percent.
“It has become common knowledge that corporations favor male applicants who have graduated from science and engineering fields of study,” said Kim Sang-hyun, an official from the Sookmyung University’s Institute of Career Development.
Kim pointed out that weakness in women’s universities’ science and engineering departments acted as the major factor in students’ turning away from women’s universities.
“Due to the unemployment crisis, the proportion of high school students of natural sciences has radically increased,” Kim said. “If you take a look at sophomores, more than 50 percent of students are choosing science with a higher proportion of girls. However, those female students still tend to avoid women’s universities because their science engineering departments have relatively less renowned reputation compared to that of co-ed schools.”
However, women’s universities are aware of the comments that have been raised and are actively trying to strengthen their science engineering capabilities. Six women’s universities in the capital city requested the government’s active support on the development of science engineering programs to the minister of MOE, Hwang Woo-yea, at a meeting held in January.
One of the most notable efforts is Ewha’s establishment of a new interdisciplinary industry college which combines six most promising majors that will lead future industry. President Choi Kyung-hee revealed that the goal of the new establishment was to meet students’ demands for more practical opportunities and advantages in employment that were discussed in her meeting with students in March.
Apart from the new college, Ewha has made significant financial investment in its medical school, building the second hospital in the Magok district to expand the volume and improve academic environments. President Choi revealed that “Ewha plans to be included in the world’s top 100 university list by emphasizing its science engineering and medical department.”
Women’s universities lost its reason for existence?
However, the most fundamental question raised is whether the current era really needs women’s university. The president of Duksung Women’s University made a similar comment, stating that “it is doubtful that educational institutions that are exclusive to women bear its original credibility and social meaning when gender discrimination is disappearing.”
Many students expressed similar opinions.
“I am skeptical about women’s universities serving a definite role in contemporary society,” said Kim Hyun-su, a sophomore at Sogang University. “Insisting to maintain women’s universities’ identity just because they started as women’s universities is simply outdated.”
Like the above opinions, it is true that gender equality at some level – at least – has been achieved. There is no denial in stating that women are getting their chance of education, as the gender proportion rate for women and men are almost equal in all universities. Then, what are the meanings of existence of women’s university in today’s society, if it has lost its original purpose of providing equal opportunities of education for women?
“As for Ewha, our school has its own identity that no other university has,” said Jung Ji-young, a professor of Women’s Studies department at Ewha. “Not many people in Korea recognize the fact that in overseas, Ewha is more widely known than other high-ranking universities, such as Yonsei and Korea University. It is because there are no other women’s university like Ewha. People from abroad are first surprised by our development, then by the scale of the school.”
Moreover, professor Jung pointed out that for women’s universities to continue to survive and prosper, they need to develop their own color that no other co-ed schools have.
“Women’s universities cannot and should not compete with other co-ed schools in rankings,” Jung said. “Yes, employment rates are important, and yes, further extending in the field of natural science is important too. But, in reality, adding a few percent in next year’s employment rate would not be the permanent solution for the survival of women’s universities. Instead, women’s universities should be the progressive education center which always seeks the new.”
Professor Jung further explained by giving the example of disability studies.
“Currently in Korea, there is no school that teaches the subject. However, if women’s universities become the pioneer in its teaching, the schools can develop into a whole new field of studies that no other university have studied before. Thus the women’s universities can prove its identity and also show students that there are opportunities that other schools cannot offer, and that is how I think women’s universities can survive.”