South Korea’s top science and technology university is set to overhaul the way it is run, after a spate of suicides. Since January, four students and one professor from the Korea Advance Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have taken their own lives. The university’s President has since caved in to mounting anger over the deaths and promised reform.
Becoming a KAIST student is a dream for many young Koreans. Set up in 1971, KAIST is one of the most prestigious universities in the country. Tuition fees amounting to about US$6,800 per semester and are all paid for by the government. But if a student’s grade point average falls below 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, it’s no longer free. And the lower the grade drops, the more the student has to pay. Once the grade falls below 2.0, the student has to pay the full tuition fees. This system – put in place by KAIST president Suh Nam Pyo in 2007- is now being blamed for the suicides of four students.
The first student committed suicide in January. The 19-year-old was known as a robot genius for his talent in assembling robots. He complained of extreme stress. The latest student – who was also 19 – jumped to his death on April 7. The university’s President Suh is now being pressured to resign. “Five people have died so far. I don’t think it’s ethically right for you to remain in that position,” said Chung Do Youn, a ruling party lawmaker.