The status quo of university counseling in Korea
Although the history of Ewha’s Student Counseling Center dates back to 1962, it was not until recently that universities nationwide started to establish concrete organizations for student mental health care.
“We owe most of that to the Ministry of Education’s Structural Reform Evaluation (and the university evaluation and structural reform bill) that was carried out in 2015, when student counseling service was included as one of the assessment criteria,” said Park Je-il, president of Counseling Council of University Student(CCUS). “Long before that, schools had ‘Student Life Research Institutes’ to meet government regulations. The article was taken back, and those organizations became nominal. The 2015 evaluations motivated universities to bring these back to life. Of course, it must be hard at first, but we assume that’s why CCUS saw an explosive increase in member schools during the last few years.”
Counseling Council of University Student(CCUS) is a league of university counseling centers in Korea founded in 1977. Their main goal is academic exchange, and they also provide assistance for struggling counseling centers. The council started off from small academic seminars, and ten years ago it had about a hundred member schools. Currently, 204 universities are registered as members of CCUS.
“It’s a shame that university officials started to take action because of government assessments,” Park said. “Regardless, the evaluations greatly raised awareness on student mental health services. Schools now perceive student welfare as not only material support but something that includes psychological support as well.”
However, Dr. Park firmly stated that there is a huge room for improvement regarding service quality and counselor treatment, both of which are strongly related.
“Counseling centers struggle from lack of space, low publicity, fragile systems – but the two factors that hinders the function of these centers the most are low budget and lack of professional workers.”
According to a CCUS research carried out in 2016, about 40 percent of universities in Korea have hired only one full-time counselor. More than 40 percent of these schools’ counseling centers are run by two counselors, and the rest are run by a single person.
“I’ve always been saying that we need at least one counselor for 2,000 students, which is sadly not the case in most universities, even in well-equipped schools like Ewha,” Park said. “For now, all I can think of as a solution for this problem is a more well-spread and better funded assistance from the government.”
Up Next: Universities in pursuit of student happiness
Contrary to our beliefs, mental health issues among university students is a worldwide problem prevalent even in developed countries. The United States is just one example of a society shook by student suicides such as the so-called “suicide phenomenon” that happened in Cornell University, back in 2009. The University of Pennsylvania saw 10 suicides between the years 2013-2016, resulting in state lawmakers ruling a suicide prevention and reporting act in the name of the victim.
Ewha Voice visited four universities in the United States to examine how the discussion on student mental health has developed after these tragedies, and how schools and its students are trying to assist the stressed-out college students of this age.