Student protest against Program for Industry Needs Matched Education (PRIME) project persists as schools have applied for the project without students’ consent.
PRIME project is a government funded program that adjusts the enrollment capacity of university departments to meet industrial needs. Announced by the Ministry of Education (MOE) last December, the project has led schools to plan for a decrease in the size of humanities, social science and arts colleges. Meanwhile, it has required them to expand colleges of engineering.
On March 3, it was announced that a total of 21 universities will take part in PRIME project. Along with Ewha, universities such as Sookmyung Women’s University, Sungshin Women’s University, and Hanyang University were selected. These universities will benefit from government subsidies ranging from 5 billion won to 20 billion won.
“PRIME project will grant various scholarships, global field practice and integrated curriculum with other majors for students studying bio-health related subjects,” said the Office of University Planning and Coordination staff at Ewha. “Scholarships will also be given to students from majors that will face a reduction in the enrollment capacity.”
Despite such large government funding, student governments have continuously demanded a stop to the PRIME project in various methods. In fact, the student governments of 12 universities including Ewha held a press conference in front of Government Complex Seoul on April 20. They called for an end to the PRIME project that is “ruining universities” and a talk with the Minister of Education. In the conference, they claimed that over 70 percent of the PRIME project evaluation score is allotted to the universities’ college restructuring plan. It was explained that such evaluation criteria has led schools to plan for college restructuring in just three months. The student representatives claimed that a hasty implementation of the program will result in the demise of basic science and arts. After the press conference, a letter demanding a stop to the PRIME project and requiring a meeting with the Minister of Education was sent to his office.
Ewha’s Student Government Association (SGA) has opposed the school’s application for the PRIME project since March. It held a protest in front of Pfeiffer Hall until 3 a.m. on March 30, the day before the application deadline for the PRIME project. It condemned the school’s lack of communication with students.
“We had been told that the school will apply for the program,” said Choi Eun-hye from Ewha’s SGA. “However, the school refused to reveal its plans for the project until five days before submitting them to the government. We want school authorities to share their plans for the long-term development of the school.”
After the school had applied for the PRIME project, the student government held a press conference to protest against the business and the college restructuring at the Main Gate. Funeral flowers were displayed, decorated with phrases such as “Death of Ewha” and “May Ewha rest in peace.” Also, the association carried out a petition calling for an end to the PRIME project and hasty college restructuring. Signatures of 5,001 Ewha students were collected and the petition was filed to the MOE.
While Ewha’s SGA argues that the university refuses to communicate with the students, the school explained that it held two conferences about the PRIME project for students. It also has held meetings with the dean and student representatives of each department to explain the direction of the government-led program and the school’s stance toward it.
“Because schools are competing to participate in the PRIME project, we could not completely disclose information about our plans,” admitted a staff member from the Office of University Planning and Coordination.
As for its application to the PRIME project, the school claimed that participation in the program is a means to an end, which is the long-term improvement of Ewha.
“Ewha has continuously created diverse majors to respond proactively to changes in society,” said a staff of the Office of University Planning and Coordination. “Our current movement is in line with the innovation inherent in the school’s history.”
Currently, the school plans to create an environment that promotes the development of female engineers through the PRIME project. It plans to establish the Division of Human Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering facilitating a convergence of life science and engineering to develop new methods of disease prevention and treatment. In order to do so, the school will increase the enrollment capacity of the College of Engineering. Meanwhile, the changes will not lead to an abolishment or an integration of other majors.
Apart from Ewha, various movements against PRIME project also took place in other schools. In the case of Inha University, the opposing movement against PRIME project was triggered by the announcement of the abolition of French and Philosophy major in order to apply for the project. Shocked by such news, the former president of the SGA, president of College of Liberal Arts, and president of Philosophy started a hunger strike. President of Inha University announced the cancellation of such restructuring four days after the hunger strike, and mentioned that she will review the guidelines of the PRIME project.
“Most students knew that the president of the school would apply for the PRIME project during the summer vacation when there were not many students at school,” said Choi Yu-ra, president of Department of Arts and Sports. “Therefore, students repeatedly asked to see the business plan for the project. The president of the school not only refused to show the plan, but also refused to discuss the topic of PRIME project with students.”
Such indifference to student opinions led Central Management Committee to start a campaign against the PRIME project. The campaign took place in the form of relay bows, where students took turns making bows until the number reached 10,000. The relay bows was an act to show students’ strong will against PRIME project. Even after the campaign, the president of Inha University kept her stance that she does not want to speak with the students. When students got the chance to view the business plan, they were only allowed around nine hours to examine the schedule despite having asked for more time to properly analyze the plan.
Despite the opposition from students, Inha University applied for the PRIME project on March 30. To show opposition against this decision, Department of Arts and Sports started a funeral procession performance, which included a march of students in mourning, signifying the death of many majors that would be abolished or combined if Inha University takes part in the PRIME project.
Students of Kookmin University has also shown efforts to stop the project. Emergency Planning Committee (EPC) stepped up to react against the reconstructing actions of the school, going on a stay-in strike at Adminition Hall, similar to the strike at Ewha. Upon the completion of the strike, EPC and the school body came to an agreement which stated the following. First, sessions for student representative and officials from Office of Student Affairs to sit down and discuss university matters should be guaranteed periodically. Second, students and president of the university should have a meeting twice a semester to discuss university matters. Third, the stance of the president of the university and the university body is announced to all school members through e-mail. Further opposing actions are expected to take place as a co-operative act between students, colleges and student representatives.
With many actions opposing the PRIME project, the prevalent opinion among students is that it looks down upon certain majors such as liberal arts, art and music because they don’t have a direct correlation with the employment rate. However, students believe that this approach is wrong as the goal of universities is to educate rather than to increase the employment rate.
“Never in the history of Humanities was university education measured in employment rate or an objective criterion,” said Bang Byeong-won, the president of College of Liberal Arts student union at Inha University. “The way the PRIME project is assessing Humanities in certain standards is unacceptable.”
Also, some students shared worries that PRIME project would have detrimental effects to the society.
“Due to the development of advanced technology, societies worldwide are recognizing the need to come up with creative content based on ideas stemming from the liberal arts,” said a freshman majoring in Asian History in Seoul National University. “Continuing to increase investments only on fields of probability calculation, like the PRIME project, is a plan that lags behind today’s trend.”