ALTHOUGH GRADUATION requirements differ from college to college, the basic composition is more or less similar. For most colleges, the requirement basically consists of major, general education and 3,000 ~ 4,000 unit courses; the only main difference is in the specific number of credits required for each section. However, a few colleges adhere to special curriculums designed exclusively for their students. Most distinctively in Yonsei University, the Underwood International College (UIC) and the College of Engineering have special major and general education requirements that are considerably different from those of other colleges. The UIC has its own seminar-style requisite courses called the Common Curriculum (CC), while the College of Engineering follows the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) program provided by the Accreditation Board for Engineering Education of Korea (ABEEK). Although these two programs are intended to maximize students’ ability in their particular majors, they have also been working as impediments to students who may want to explore various fields.
No retake for double C
The CC forms the basis of the liberal arts education that UIC aims to provide. The curriculum, which consists of small-sized, discussion-oriented courses, aims to let UIC students pursue studies in a number of fields through an interdisciplinary approach. It covers diverse academic fields such as history, philosophy, literature, critical reasoning and research methods, which are all essential to liberal arts studies. Thus, this curriculum can be regarded as equivalent to the general education basic and requisite courses provided by the University College of Yonsei that non-UIC students are required to take. Because the CC is a carefully designed curriculum led by qualified faculty, students are generally satisfied with the quality of courses in the curriculum. Lee Min-jee (Soph., UIC, Asian Studies Div.) said that CC education was actually the reason she chose to enroll in the UIC above all other schools.
In fact, what the students are mainly discontented about are administrative issues regarding the CC. Firstly, students are not given much leeway in choosing classes. UIC students are mandated to take 42 to 48 credits from the CC, with the specific requirement differing from major to major. Even after excluding 8 credits of general education basic courses and 3 credits of RC requisite courses, 31 to 37 credits of requisite courses still remain. This is quite a lot compared to the 24 credits that non-UIC students need to take from the list of general education requisite courses. However, due to the insufficient number of CC courses, UIC students have a very limited choice in deciding upon which courses to enroll in. In fact, the CC is made up of six basic classes and UIC seminars, which are classes that help a more in-depth study of majors. Kim Ji-yun (Soph., UIC, Techno Art Div.) said, “I feel that it would have been better if we had more choices of CC courses. While non-UIC students can choose from various classes categorized into nine fields ranging from humanities to science and arts, we are mandated to choose from a limited number of classes that are mostly confined to humanities, such as literature, history and philosophy.”
Secondly, it is difficult for non-freshmen of the UIC to enroll in CC courses at the Yonsei International Campus (YIC), even though the courses are mandatory. Because the school recommends students to finish taking the CC courses in their freshman year, there are not enough seats set aside for non-freshmen in classes held at the YIC. Especially for this semester, there was only one seat for non-freshmen in several of the CC classes taught at the YIC. However, such a regulation is rather extreme, considering that students would need to take at least 21 credits of CC courses each semester if they were to fulfill the CC requirements within a year as the school recommends. Furthermore, this disadvantage in course enrollment affects UIC students considerably because many students in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) field remain at the YIC even after their freshman year in order to take their major courses, most of which are only held at the YIC. Also, they are not even allowed to take Chapel at Sinchon Campus, which further requires them to stay at the YIC. According to Lee, these students had to distribute a lot of mileage for CC courses during course enrollment this semester, and naturally lacked mileage for other courses they wanted to take.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the exclusive retake policy regarding the CC courses is a very controversial issue. Unlike the case with general education requisite courses, UIC students who entered the school after 2012 cannot retake CC requisite courses unless they get an F. According to Jo Jung-ho (Registrar, Office of the UIC), the school put an exceptionally harsh regulation on retaking CC courses in order to manage UIC students’ academic achievements more stringently. In addition, because CC classes are mostly small-sized with less than 20 people for each class, an increase in class sections will be inevitable in order to meet the retake demand – which, according to Jo, “can cause a great burden on the UIC administration.” Um Ji-yi (Sr., UIC, Dept. of Comparative Lit. & Culture) uploaded a critical post regarding this issue on the official Facebook page of the UIC student council. She said, “Although I did my best on the tasks, exams and attendance, I still got a C+ for a particular CC class. I also have witnesses of other students who share a similar experience. Because a small number of students are graded on a curve, some students still get a low grade even if they did their best. I do not understand why students are not even given a chance to recover their unsatisfactory scores on *requisite* courses. I heard that the school limited CC retake because there are not enough professors to satisfy the full demand; if this is the reason, the school should increase the class size or employ more professors.”
ABEEK, a cradle for a tech nerd?
Unlike the CC, which is Yonsei’s own unique program, the EAC is a nationwide program provided by a governmental institution: ABEEK. ABEEK programs aim to improve the quality of engineering education in Korea by assuring that students can demonstrate their ability at practical fields right after graduation. The EAC is one of the three programs that ABBEK provides, the other ones being the Computer Accreditation Committee (CAC) program and the Engineering Technology Accreditation Committee (ETAC) program. The EAC program was first introduced to Yonsei in 2003. It was optional for the classes of 2003 to 2005, but became a graduation requirement in 2006 for all students entering the College of Engineering. Although the accreditation assures a high quality of education that is globally acknowledged, the program’s inflexibility has been distressing students in many ways.
To begin with, students have difficulty in adjusting their course registration plans. This is because most courses in the program’s curriculum are offered only once a year, either in the first or second semester. The problem is most courses need to be taken in a strictly designated order, as some courses are prerequisites for others. Thus, if students fail to enroll in classes that correspond to their current level, they would have to wait a year more for those classes to open again. Kim Dong-ha (Jr., Dept. of Electrical & Electronic Engin.) said, “Before, we could enroll in even the courses we couldn’t get into during course registration by asking the professor to increase the quota, a request commonly known as *bil-neot*. However, I’m worried that we won’t be able to do so from now on as the school has forbidden *bil-neot* under the new course enrollment system.”
Engineering students also do not have much chance to take various general education requisite or elective courses. Although they need to get 48 credits - twice the required credits of other colleges – for general education requisite courses, most of them are mandated courses exclusively held for engineering students. After excluding these requisites, they are left with only nine credits to choose from four fields related to the humanities. Kim said, “As a university student, I wanted to explore fields other than engineering by taking general education courses. I was really disappointed to find out that I actually didn’t have much choice, just like a high school student.”
Furthermore, students lack time for self-study because of the excessive workload. If they take compulsory design and experiment courses, they don’t even have enough time for self-study because these courses are too demanding. Kim said, “Experiment classes are really time-consuming. They are five hours long, although they are worth only three credits, and for many times the experiments last longer than five hours. Submitting preparatory papers and result papers every week, which are often more than ten pages long, also takes up a lot of time.”
Aiming for the true differentiation
Lots of efforts are being made in the school community to improve the problems within the CC and EAC programs. For example, although Jo said that there has been no official objection from UIC students regarding the retake policy, the 11th UIC student council, United, is planning to bring positive changes to the policy for the protection of students’ education rights. For now, the Office of the UIC removed the grade quota during the course drop & add period so that non-freshmen can also take CC courses at the YIC. It also made it possible for HASS students to take Sinchon Chapel, if they submit an explanatory statement and get it signed by their academic advisers. However, these are only stopgap measures; more fundamental solutions, such as increasing the class sections, class capacity and the number of faculty, should be examined.
In 2014, the College of Engineering decided to give each department the discretion to continue or discontinue the program. According to Professor Kang So-yeon (Associate Prof., Yonsei Innovation Center for Engineering Education), the Department of Urban Engineering, Department of Information & Industrial Engineering and Department of Material Engineering decided to discontinue the accreditation curriculum; students who graduate after August, 2017 will not receive the accreditation for the program. The Department of Computer Science is in the process of withdrawing from the accreditation, as well. On a national scale, ABEEK has replaced the accreditation standard from KEC2005 to KEC2015. The change included less strict requirements, such as the deletion of certain requirements worth 18 credits and allowing room for a decrease in design course credits, generally from 18 to 12 or 9.
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Although the CC and ABEEK programs are carefully designed to maximize students’ full potential, they have also been breaching their education rights in some respects. As these curriculums’ core problem lies in their inflexibility, the foremost solution will be to deregulate unnecessary requirements and to respect students’ right to pursue their fields of interest.