For this year’s KAIST’s annual departmental information sessions, many of the freshmen would have had to participate in more sessions than in previous years. That is due to the school’s new curriculum announced at the beginning of the calendar year by the KAIST Curriculum Review Committee, in a bid to strengthen the “students’ professional competence”. From this year onwards, the new curriculum requires soon-to-be sophomores to enroll in one of the following four tracks, along with their declared majors, as part of their graduation requirements: the minor and double major tracks require students to take 18 (to 21) credits and 40 credits, respectively, in line with each department’s requirements, just as before; advanced major tracks require students to take an extra 12 ~ 18 credits from their respective declared majors; the individually designed major, a new track that has been introduced along with the new curriculum, requires a total of 12 credits worth any combination of courses from departments other than a student’s declared major.
The introduction of the new quad-track system is also accompanied by an overall increase in the number of required credits (from 130 to 136) and changes in each department’s major course completion criteria. Other graduation requirements such as those for basic courses and elective general courses in Humanities and Social Sciences remain the same as before. For example, incoming mechanical-engineering (ME) majors will be required to take 48 credits in ME courses, 21 in Humanities and Social Sciences, 32 in basic courses, 3 in research, and the required number of credits for the students’ respective choice of track. The remaining credits short of the required 136 are to be fulfilled as elective courses.
There has been schoolwide concern and outcry ever since the school’s Academic & Research Deliberation Committee initially proposed this new curriculum back in late 2014. The proposed curriculum featured a tri-track system that required students to take up either the minor program, the double major, or the advanced major program, all of which, at the time, existed as optional tracks for undergraduate students who want to augment their education. The new curriculum was a means to improve the students’ professional competency in their respective fields or provide students with an interdisciplinary background.
However, the 29th Undergraduate Student Council, One Step, argued that strengthening the graduation requirements goes directly against the change in curriculum implemented by the school back in 1997 to alleviate some of the burden of coursework on KAIST students. One Step also noted that additional course requirements may deprive students of the time to pursue other extra-curricular activities and opportunities offered by the school that may also help students improve their professional skills.
The two parties eventually reached a compromise and agreed that the implementation of the new curriculum be postponed to 2016 and that the tri-track system be expanded to a quad-track system: this quad-track curriculum also provides the students the option of choosing an “individually designed major”, which One Step believed to be most closely akin to the elective course requirements at the time, and hence would not exert too much of an extra burden on students. It was also acknowledged that the quad-track system would facilitate those who have already had set their sights on pursuing a minor, a double major, or an advanced major.
Some students still believe there are lingering issues with the new curriculum that have yet to be addressed. On November 10, the incumbent Undergraduate Student Council, K’loud, announced plans to negotiate with the school authorities to offer an extra semester-long “grace period for tuition fee payment” for students who decide to pursue the advanced major program, for which the school currently offers only up to eight-semesters worth of scholarship. K’loud wrote on their Facebook page that, contrary to the school’s belief, the expected increase in student workload for advanced majors would likely be larger than that which would have accompanied a simple 6-credit increase in the overall graduation requirements. Their argument is advanced majors would need more time to take 12 to 18 credits worth of advanced-level courses (with course numbers 400 or 500) rather than just the same number of any major elective course.