The recent events surrounding the tragic passing of a KAIST freshman have called into question ethical concerns with the current admissions policy. Proponents of the current admissions system argue that there are sufficient safeguards in place to aid those who fall behind, while those opposed expressed concerns by asking whether KAIST was ready to admit “rough diamonds” or students with the hidden potential to become great engineers and scientists. Each side will be debated, and The KAIST Herald has decided to tackle this issue.
Pro: Admissions Policy Has Room for Improvement
By Chaerim Oh
2010 marked the first year that KAIST welcomed students accepted through its new admissions process that was introduced to “broaden the field of applicants to graduates from schools other than science high schools.”
According to the newly implemented policy, 150 students who were recommended by their general high school principals were evaluated through in-depth interviews by admissions officers before being enrolled. President Nam Pyo Suh said in a 2009 interview that through this policy, high schools that had never sent their students to KAIST will now have a chance to do so.
Over the recent winter break, the unfortunate news of an aspiring freshman stirred the nation. While science high school graduates tend to make up a large portion of the KAIST student body, Cho was the first and only student who had graduated from a vocational school. Prior to entering KAIST, Cho had received dozens of awards in robot-related contests and showed passion for robot studies. In 2009, both his admission to KAIST as well as the policy that allowed for his acceptance were praised and made headlines around the media.
While the new admissions policy was originally designed to limit “special-purpose” high school graduates from taking a disproportionately large share of admissions, it is an inevitable fact that most students from non-science high schools tend to have different math and science standards as science high school alumni, meaning students begin at various starting points.
To help these students adapt better, in 2009 KAIST opened the Bridge Program – an academic study program for prospective freshmen from general high schools. The program is aimed at preparing undergraduates for mathematics, physics and chemistry prior to officially entering KAIST to put them on the same track as others. As a student who has taken all three courses offered by the Bridge Program, I still found myself struggling in general courses required for graduation. Yes, the courses were indeed useful but in no way prepared me thoroughly.
Tutoring and mentoring programs are a couple other support systems provided by the school but many are still unfamiliar with them. If KAIST advertised and provided such dependable programs that more students can participate in and rely on, the transition would be easier. As of now, the admissions policy needs to be thought through more and reformed so that it offers guidance to students after their enrollment.
The policy of accepting students from a bigger pool than the past undoubtedly illustrates our school’s progression. However, if the school is to continue doing so, it should keep in mind that there is still plenty of room for improvement. For instance, instead of putting every single student at the same starting line, how about offering more choices for students? Bring back the different levels of general requirement courses and offer more classes over vacations; students will be able to take off a load of pressure from their shoulders. After all, a school’s priority should not be yielding out graduates at a maximum rate. Rather, it should provide a safe and comforting environment where young adults are free to learn according to their own measure and standards.
Perhaps no one ever will truly understand the reason behind Cho’s regretful decision. But by reflecting on the past, the school must take charge and provide guidance for these young and promising, but sometimes vulnerable, students. What brought Cho to KAIST in the first place were his talent, enthusiasm and potential; for such a commendable policy to last, it needs to make changes where needed in order to put a stop to what may become an unfortunate trend.
Con: Abandon Policy for KAIST's Own Welfare
By Jae Young Byon
Over the winter break, KAIST made it into the news headlines nationwide for all the wrong reasons as a troubled freshman student paid the ultimate price in taking his own life. The student in question had completed only his second semester at KAIST after entering the university in Spring 2010, as part of KAIST’s new policy of accepting students by merit of their high school principals’ recommendations. Despite the praise and commendation that the public heaped on KAIST for its novel idea of admitting those who would otherwise have never even dreamt of becoming KAIST students, this project resulted in more harm than good, as a combination of personal and academic problems compelled the student to commit suicide. This unfolding of events is surely a tragedy, the ramifications of which the university must learn from, but at the same time, this death is something that should have never taken place; one that school policy and discretion should have prevented. Simply put, the school was not in any position to admit students of such backgrounds, and by these admissions it is not only taking an unnecessary risk, but also dealing injustice to all other applicants.
Although an obvious fact, readers must remind themselves that KAIST is a public university funded by the government. KAIST’s prosperity and success depend on its amiable relationship with the Korean government, without which it cannot hope to function. With this in mind, the importance of the university maintaining its clean, positive image to the people is undeniable; KAIST’s image reflects in part the government’s image, from which we can conclude that only by preserving a good image of itself to the Korean public can KAIST continue to be a successful public university. The recent suicide is thus a major blow for KAIST, the corollaries of which may take a long time to recover from - the university may now be branded as a tortuous place where those who cannot cope or adapt well are forced into a suicidal demise. Another blow like this one, and it may all be over. The influx of such “unproven” students only increases the chances of that happening.
Aside from the university’s own welfare, the issue of equality is another good reason why students should not be accepted based solely on principal’s recommendations. KAIST’s reputation for being an elite university is built partly from the rigorous admission process. Most students at KAIST are graduates of the university’s own Korea Science Academy (KSA), science high schools or other prestigious educational institutes, while many from ordinary high schools graduated as valedictorians. The students’ academic demographics is proof of the fierce competition and years of hard work that many KAIST students had to overcome to earn their place at the university. To accept less-qualified students based on principals’ recommendations would not only undermine the prestige that other students worked hard to gain, it would also serve to mock the current system of academic qualification. It would hardly be fair to the parents who spent a fortune on tuition, and to the students who put in the blood, sweat and tears for their grades, if other students could end up at the same place without much effort.
Every morally upright member of society undoubtedly sees the good in KAIST’s new admissions policy. Many middle and high school students in Korea do not have the means to emerge victorious in the merciless, frantic race for academic success, and in giving some of these students a chance to fulfill their potentials, KAIST has played the part of the “good guy.” But just how much justice is there for the other competitors? And with so little to gain from this great gamble, why should the university uphold these new regulations? It is time for KAIST to face reality and accept that this time round, it must forego charity for its own good.