Tearful Spring of KAIST in Crisis and Korean Society
Tearful Spring of KAIST in Crisis and Korean Society
  • Reporter Kim Sung-hwan
  • 승인 2011.05.04 12:18
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It might be little too late to bring, but for the non-Korean readers who are curious about the incidents, The Postech Times presents the detailed description to the recent four suicides in KAIST and suspected reasons.

What happened?

So far, as long as the debate is on the year of 2011, there have been four suicides in Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).

The four suicides were from diverse high school backgrounds. Cho (death on Jan. 8) attended a professional high school; Kim (death on Mar. 20) attended a science high school; Chang (death on Mar. 29) attended a college-preparatory high school in Gangnam, the most competitive region; Park (death on Apr. 7) attended Korea Science Academy of KAIST, which is known as the best school specialized in science in Korea.

After the last suicide, all classes were cancelled for two days. The board of directors was opened, and the National Assembly summoned the KAIST’s president.

The first suicide might have stimulated the threshold, but what seems the most truthful is that a complex of causes was behind. 

So what are the assumptions?

There are several reasons suspected, mostly institutional. Consider that no one factor is greater another. The causes are not ordered.

1. Penalty Tuition System

This is the one the media pounded the most. KAIST’s tuition fee basically depends on students’ GPA. If GPA is under 3.3, the fee for the Supportive Association of 1.575 million KRW is burdened. If it is less than 2.95, the SA fee is levied with the tuition fee. In this case, the amount of the tuition fee depends on GPA in that the fee increases by 6.5 thousand KRW multiplied by the difference between students’ GPA and 3.0. So if a student’s GPA is 2.0, the total amount the student pays would be around 8 million KRW.

This system, making students money-driven, is criticized to cause overwhelmingly strong competition, even considered inhumane.

According to a congress man Ahn Min-seok, the number of students who lost hold on the scholarship increased from 302 to 1006 from 2008 to 2010.

A psychology professor of Chungbuk National University said, “The relative psychology deprivation when a person who always used to be the best lag behind can be greater than any other case.”

▲ KAIST's student council members in grief (photo from Yonhap News Agency)

2. All Classes Offered in English

Students who enter specialized institutions such as POSTECH or KAIST apply to them because they want to study science and technology profoundly. Forcing students study science and technology, which they are hugely passionate about, study in a language they do not understand can make them fall in abyss. With the confidence cast away, the students are confined in stress and pain.

3. Confusion in Self-Identity after Entrance to College

It is relatively rare case, but for some students, the only dream has been entering one of better colleges in their high school years. It is due to the societal atmosphere that necessitates the top tier colleges to live ‘right’ way of life. Students in such condition are lost in the loss the objective for life. They are exposed to the fragile status that can be easily swayed.

4. Geographically Isolated Environment

KAIST, like POSTECH, is located in an isolated region. There are some places to hang out around the campus, but no exchangeable colleges around. There is less transaction with out-campus subjects that could give some stimulation. In this environment if students begin to check each other either consciously or unconsciously, even the students within the inner circle can isolate themselves psychologically and affect every day lives negatively. And in this case, the penalty tuition system might have been the stimulator.

5. Personal Grounds

The thesis is that it is not that there is no problem in society or system. It is just that the social or systematical problems were not significant enough to drive suicide. The causes behind the decisions were just personal, and the four suicides were independent.

What has been done?

To make some resolution, KAIST once opened a school-wide conference that any KAIST student can participate and discuss on the possibilities, though it had a criticism that President Suh offered a lecture instead of discussion.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea embarked on an investigation to find out human rights violations in mentally pressuring the students.

Newly founded Innovation Committee of KAIST, constituted with five professors picked by the current president, the other five professors from Professors Union and three student representatives, is currently seeking for the means to resolve and improve the situation.