Voices of protest rose in the student community as news of President Sung-Chul Shin’s announcement of the establishment of the School of Transdisciplinary Sciences and Engineering (TSE) at the second meeting for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Human Resources Committee (HR Committee) spread.
The HR Committee is a committee composed of around 20 members from the Ministry of Science and ICT, the four advanced scientific institutes (KAIST, GIST, DGIST, and UNIST), and POSTECH. It was established in February 2018 to discuss the development of human resources who will lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution era. Its principal goal is to promote education that fosters students equipped with the core competencies necessary in future society: fusion, creativity, social responsibility, and self-direction.
Following President Shin’s proposal, the second meeting was held on the morning of May 17 under the topic of “non-major policies”. Each scientific institute presented a model of a customized non-major curriculum reflecting its own characteristics. In his presentation, President Shin introduced KAIST’s plans for the establishment and operation of TSE. He stated, “This track will be piloted with a maximum of 50 students when students of the Class of 2018 enter their majors in their second year. Through the modular curriculum system, students will be able to personalize their curricula depending on their aptitudes, interests, and career plans.”
The Undergraduate Student Council (USC) filed a statement denouncing President Shin’s and the Ministry of Science and ICT’s attitudes concerning the HR Committee. The statement first pointed out the school’s indisposition to incorporate student opinion in the TSE establishment plan. Although students have repeatedly expressed concern regarding the necessity and viability of TSE, no effort has been made by the school to resolve the pointed-out problems. Yet, President Shin has officially declared the launch of TSE in 2019 to be confirmed in the HR Committee meeting. Considering that TSE’s establishment was externally declared even before student concerns regarding it were resolved, the USC expressed doubt towards the president’s sense of responsibility for KAIST’s undergraduate course. Questions about whether the HR Committee meeting was merely propaganda for KAIST’s TSE arose.
The USC also criticized the proceedings of the Ministry of Science and ICT, calling the one-sided designation of an ideal “Fourth Industrial Revolution human resource” by the government undesirable as there is no clear understanding on the part of the students and the general public of what the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is. Overall, students expressed discomfort at being treated as “lab rats” for the government and the school’s experiments on education. Students also expressed that in such a situation, it is questionable whether the rushed reform of college education is truly a step towards improvement and that a society-wide consensus and discourse about human resource development should precede. The demand for a more democratic treatment of student opinion escalates.