On the 16th, I took a taxi from Gwangyang Bus Terminal in Jeollanam-do and drove about 10 minutes in the direction of Suncheon, where I saw a six-building university campus nestled in the middle of a mountain. This is Gwangyang Public Health University, the only university left in Gwangyang. The bus stop in front of the school has been left with broken benches, adding to its grungy atmosphere, and the basketball court with its old basketball hoop is used as a parking lot because no students use it.
The building that houses the university’s headquarters houses the Department of Health Administration, the Department of Port Logistics, and the Department of Opticianry, but none of the classrooms were in use. The departments were virtually abandoned due to lack of students. In the third-floor classroom of the Department of Optometry, the 2016 final examination question paper was still on the table. The old eyeglass frames used for practice were covered with a fine layer of dust.
Gwangyang University of Health Sciences is a so-called “marginal university,” designated as a university with limited government financial support due to a decline in enrollment. These universities are not allowed to participate in government financial support projects, and are not eligible for national scholarships and student loans, or have some restrictions. This year, there are 21 such universities, including nine four-year general universities and 12 vocational universities.
Local universities are at a crossroads due to the declining school-age population. Coupled with scandals such as embezzlement by the founder, some local universities are faltering even with competitive programs. According to the Ministry of Education, as of the 2022 academic year, 44 out of 214 local universities (20.6 percent) had an enrollment rate of less than 80 percent. If the freshman recruitment rate is less than 80%, the university is likely to be designated as a financial aid restriction university, which in turn makes it difficult to recruit new students, creating a vicious cycle. For this reason, experts advise that “marginal universities should be given a pathway out, while local universities should be given a seat at the table and nurtured to become hubs of community development.”
When universities closed, “cafe customers dropped to one-tenth, and single rooms were empty”… Localization accelerates
Crumbling local universities
Two Gwangyang universities, one closed and one in crisis
Population decline on the Donghae Line triples… Slumization is a concern around closed campuses
“Need for joint university-local government development strategy”
Established in 1992, Gwangyang University of Health Sciences was known as a “good school for employment” in the region because it specialized in healthcare fields such as nursing. However, the crisis began when the school’s founder was accused of stealing school fees to build another school. Over the past decade, the school has received failing grades in management evaluations and basic university competency diagnostics, and student applications have plummeted. The number of new students has also continued to decline due to the decline in the school-age population.
From the 2021 academic year, even the nursing department, which had the highest admission performance, stopped recruiting new students, further weakening the school. The nursing program was effectively abolished when the school lost its accreditation as a nursing education institution. The total number of new students plummeted from 358 in 2018 to 33 last year and 30 this year. The school’s student body, which once numbered more than 3,000, has dwindled to about 200. After years of unpaid wages, only 25 professors and eight staff members remain at the school.
As a result, the school has been unable to organize various student activities or improve its dilapidated facilities. The peeling paint and cracked hallways were left untouched. A third-year physical therapy student said, “There is no scholarship support, so the burden on students is heavy.” “Many of the lab equipment is old and unusable, and there is little interaction between seniors and juniors, such as club activities.”
● Neighboring businesses also suffered after the school closed
About 100 meters away from the main entrance of Gwangyang Public Health University was Halliday College. The school was founded in 1995, but was unable to survive the business crisis and closed in February last year. About 400 students were transferred to similar programs at nearby universities. Inside Halliday, a high fence had been erected to keep outsiders out, and old wheelchairs and carts littered the grounds. Outside the school gates, the building looked like a ghost town with broken windows.
One of the hardest hit by the closure of the two schools and the decline in enrollment is the nearby commercial district. The area on the road to Suncheon was almost entirely rice fields before the schools were built. After the schools were built, residences and shopping centers began to spring up in the neighborhood. The one-room village alone has about 170 buildings. Thirty shops, including a chicken restaurant, a cafe, and a billiard hall, were also built for student business.
But with the disappearance of students, these businesses have also suffered. “During the exam period, it was difficult to get customers because the place was full of students, but now it’s less than a tenth of what it used to be,” said Ms. Kwok Mo, who has been running a cafe for seven years. “When Halliday closed, there were 30 to 40 percent vacancies,” said Yang Jae-hoon, a real estate agent in the neighborhood. “Now there are only middle-aged people working in the nearby industrial park, and there are few student tenants.”
School closure → population decline → slumization vicious circle
The disappearance of a university accelerates the disappearance of a neighborhood. Hanzhong University, which opened in 1991 in Donghae City, Gangwon Province, closed in 2018 due to poor management. The loss of more than 2,000 students hit the local economy hard. Not only did the students pay tuition, but they also spent money on rent and food in the area. The population of Donghae City, which was 92,851 in 2017, dropped to 91,272 the following year, a decrease of 1579 people. The population decline, which averaged about 570 people per year for the previous three years, suddenly tripled. The population of Donghae City fell below 90,000 last year to 89,426.
There is also a concern that the surrounding area will become slum if the university does not find a way to utilize the campus after closure. Hanzhong University has a campus area of 230,000 square meters. Currently, some of the buildings are operating as the Donghae City Entrepreneurship Incubation Center, but the rest of the buildings and grounds have not been utilized and are left as abandoned houses. Donghae City plans to revitalize the stagnant area by attracting a general hospital or a training center for large companies, but it has not been able to come up with an alternative for five years먹튀검증.
● A ‘university city’ strategy is needed
According to the Korea Education Development Institute in 2021, there were 84 universities nationwide that were classified as so-called “marginal universities” due to poor financial structure or difficulty in recruiting students. The institute defined marginal universities as those that have been included in the government’s university evaluation from 2010 to 2020 as failing universities at least once, limiting financial support and student loans. By region, non-metropolitan universities accounted for 62 (73.8%), and by type, private universities accounted for 79 (94%).
Universities with serious irregularities and loss of competitiveness should be weeded out