On March 24, 2022, Inha University held a 'Public hearing for innovation in education at Inha University for members of the university. At the public hearing, major issues of universities were shared. There were also discussions on ways to innovate university education through the establishment of a new Department of Liberal Studies. Therefore, Inha University is currently reviewing the establishment of a new Department of Liberal Studies in a very positive direction.
Through this article, we will explain what the Department of Liberal Studies is, what curriculum it contains, and its advantages and disadvantages. Also, we will look at cases of other schools where a Department of Liberal Studies already exists.
First, let's look at the definition of the Department of Liberal Studies. The Department of Liberal Studies is a system in which students choose a major they want at a certain time as they enter a university without deciding on a major. In this situation, students freely take classes in their department in the first year, explore various majors, and then choose their majors after the second year. The introduction of the Department of Liberal Studies began with the aim of allowing students to experience various studies in the lower grades, to choose their major based on those studies, and to have their talents fostered by majoring in different studies. In addition, many universities established the school to allocate the remaining enrollment quota in accordance with the government policy of abolishing law departments when law schools were introduced in 2009. In the case of the Department of Liberal Studies, the undergraduate system can be considered to have expanded to most departments other than some related departments. In fact, different universities use different names for the department such as “the Department of Liberal Studies” or “the department of interdisciplinary studies.”
Concerning the curriculum of the Department of Liberal Studies, each university has a different system, but the decision of the major is usually made at the end of the second semester of the first year. Currently, some schools decide students' majors according to their choices without competition for credit, while others set a quota that is decided by students’ grades. In the first case, if the department is full, it is a problem because there are departments that will be undersubscribed. In the second situation, there may also be a problem in that if the grades are low, students cannot go to the desired department. In addition, after choosing a major, a student may be changed from the Department of Liberal Studies to another department of his or her choice and may remain a member of the Department of Liberal Studies after a major is selected.
Next, we will look at the advantages and disadvantages of the Department of Liberal Studies. First of all, the biggest advantage of the Department of Liberal Studies is that students can choose their career path according to their aptitude through the experience before choosing their major. Also, the Department of Liberal Studies is highly regarded for allowing students to learn and grow their convergent talents without being limited to specific subjects. It is an advantage for students to find their aptitude and decide their majors through college life. Conversely, there is a disadvantage in that they can waste time, taking many classes, without a clear sense of purpose because they do not yet have a specific major. Also, most of the Department of Liberal Studies in universities are not often operated in accordance with the original purpose of their establishment. In fact, many students go to the Department of Liberal Studies and take several subjects and then use those subjects as a foundation for transferring to a popular department rather than taking a double major. In addition, the department's affiliation may change while students are choosing a major, leaving no seniors in the upper grades, so the identity of the department tends to be ambiguous in the relationships between the lower grades and the higher grades.
Due to these shortcomings, the Department of Liberal Studies in many universities has been abolished. In fact, Soongsil University and Chung-Ang University abolished the Department of Liberal Studies in 2010, Ajou University and Sungkyunkwan University in 2012, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in 2014, and Yonsei University in 2016. In the case of the Department of Liberal Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, the uniqueness of the department was reversed twice. As a result, it is now abolished. First of all, the Department of Liberal Studies was first opened in 2004 and all majors on the Seoul campus could be selected. But it was abolished first in 2008 due to the excessive selection of undergraduates in certain popular majors such as business management and English departments. However, when the law school system stopped recruiting new freshmen, the department was newly established in 2009 as the Department of Liberal Studies in social sciences and it continued as the Department of Liberal Studies until 2013. In other words, in the case of the previous Department of Liberal Studies, students were able to choose among the entire range of majors at the Seoul campus until 2009. After that, it was changed so they could only choose their majors within the college of social sciences. So, in the case of the newly established Department of Liberal Studies, undergraduates can take social science major classes in the first grade and choose a major in the second grade in the college of social science. However, the school's plan to create a new specialized department representing the school was reversed and the school abolished the Department of Liberal Studies despite students' opposition. And the new department, of language & diplomacy (LD) replaced it.
Let's look at the reason why Inha University wants to establish the Department of Liberal Studies in the school, even though there has been a trend of gradually abolishing the Department of Liberal Studies in the case of several other universities. The main reasons for the establishment of the Department of Liberal Studies include responding to the additional selection of basic university competency diagnosis, restructuring, the reduction of the school-age population, resolving the mismatch of liberal arts and natural sciences due to the integrated CSAT, and improving the results of the entrance exam. Among them, it was decided that the most practical reasons were for additional selections and reorganization of the department structure. First of all, the additional selection of the basic university competency diagnosis was largely evaluated as 'education conditions' and 'educational innovation strategy'. In fact, educational conditions including indicators such as full-time teacher acquisition rate and employment rate were quantitative evaluation factors. There was no significant difference between schools. So, the key was to prepare a report on 'educational innovation strategy'. Among them, the highest score was for the "direction and strategy for university education innovation" indicator (12 points), and the strategy of this school to secure this score was the establishment of the Department of Liberal Studies. As a result, Inha University expressed its willingness to slowly reduce the number of students entering departments where demand for students is decreasing and to reorganize the structure of departments around areas where demand is high. Although the reduction of the quota for other departments starts with a reduction in the fixed-rate (2.69%) due to the recruitment of new students for the liberal studies department. The headquarters also announced additional quota adjustments in the future. Choi Won-joon who is a deputy head of Inha University's strategic planning team, said "we cannot allocate resources equally all the time," and also expressed the perception that "the headquarters is not socially responsible for balanced development of learning, but changes are inevitable." Meanwhile, a survey conducted for about 10 days from March 11 showed 88.8% of students' approval. Regarding the size of the admission quota, "less than 50" and "more than 50 and less than 100" were divided into 45% each. Inha University plans to decide whether to establish the Department of Liberal Studies by collecting opinions from both inside and outside the school as soon as the opinion poll of parents and local industrial companies is completed.
In addition, the effects of Inha University's establishment of the Department of Liberal Studies were an 'additional selection of basic university competency diagnosis' and an 'improvement of entrance examination results. In particular, the establishment of the Department of Liberal Studies is a qualitative evaluation item corresponding to educational innovation among the additional selection of basic competency diagnoses for universities. The aim is to supplement the deduction of the diagnostic evaluation in 2021. Inha University prepared for the additional selection of the university's basic competency diagnosis and came up with a plan to establish a new Department of Liberal Studies and activate a convergence major. In particular, the establishment of the Department of Liberal Studies was the core of the educational innovation strategy promoted by the school. The establishment of the Department of Liberal Studies is planned to target the "direction and strategy of university education innovation" among the qualitative assessments. In this way, the basic educational innovation strategy of this school was to 'strengthen students' learning options'. As a result, Inha University was additionally selected as a general financial support university on May 17, 2022. This is five months after the Ministry of Education announced that it would select 13 additional universities out of 52 universities that have not been selected for general financial support. As a result, Inha University will receive more than 15 billion won in total over three years, with about 4 billion won this year, 6 billion won in 2023, and 6 billion won in 2024. In addition, an official from Inha University said, "Our Inha University will establish the Inha education innovation committee directly organized by the president and establish an innovative program for the academic structure, curriculum, and support system, including the establishment of a new Department of Liberal Studies."
In addition, the official announced his future plan to "strengthen sharing and cooperation through the operation of programs to train talented people in new industries and a rigid academic structure improvement." In addition, Inha University expects to improve the results of the university entrance examination through the establishment of a new department of free electric engineering. Choi Won-joon, deputy head of the strategic planning team, said at a public hearing for educational innovation at Inha University on March 24, "If the school-age population decreases, it will be good to establish a department with a wide range of major choices to respond to this." Also, "We expect this to be an incentive for our school, which has various departments. In addition, we will select new students in the autobiography department on time, he said. "The rate of giving up on time was higher than that of regular students, but if you choose a major after entering the school, the rate of giving up will be supplemented."
However, it should be noted that the purpose of the Department of Liberal Studies is overshadowed by the remarkable "concentration phenomenon" in which students only go to certain departments that are advantageous for employment. Furthermore, there are concerns that it is difficult to search for a major in the first grade due to the curriculum of this school. In fact, some students have expressed concern, saying, "First graders take designated basic education such as crossover," adding, "I wonder if they can experience their major properly." In addition, side effects such as disruptions in class applications and lack of classrooms for existing popular departments are expected to intensify due to the concentration of the new department. In particular, an alternative is urgent because it is still difficult to open lectures in departments with many majors and double majors and minors.
Choi won-joon, deputy head of the strategic planning team said, “If there are too many students in a particular department, the department cannot function properly, so it seems necessary to impose restrictions. Furthermore, if students in the existing department do not want to be overcrowded, there is a way to recruit or support full-time teachers." Therefore, our school plans to prevent the concentration of specific departments by using the method of connecting, minor, and student design majors. Inha University is also considering a plan to allow students of the Department of Liberal Studies to take basic major courses in other departments without restriction. Vice team leader Choi said, "Students in the Department of Liberal Studies plan to tear down all the walls of subjects such as compulsory education and affiliated education for each college." Regarding the adjustment of the quotas due to the establishment of the new Department of Liberal Studies, it is expected to be related to the case of the establishment of a new department within Inha University's soft convergence university. With the number of students in the Department of Liberal Studies not determined, there are no specific plans yet. It will be similar to the case of software convergence universities that evenly reduced the ratio and reduced the number of transfer students in all departments, said Choi won-joon. In addition, Inha University plans to reorganize its academic structure to focus on studies with high demand for companies and students through the Department of Liberal Studies and convergence majors. At the Public Hearing for Educational Innovation held on March 24, Choi Ki-young, vice president of the Ministry of Education, said, "What the Ministry of Education demands is to break down and innovate the old system of universities in a way that will improve the structure. Therefore, our school has established an organization that manages the Department of Liberal Studies under the authority of Frontier University for smooth academic management. We plan to select about four professors dedicated to the Department of Liberal Studies to identify students' tendencies.” In addition, close counseling through grouping between professors and students will help them receive liberal arts and basic education tailored to the student tendencies. Baek Sung-hyun, head of the planning department, said, "If selected students, management, and the system organization are insufficient, it will be a failure. We must thoroughly prepare the curriculum based on other school cases." In response, the headquarters said, "The tilt phenomenon will occur to some extent," but added, "There are various departments such as mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and computer engineering, so I don't think there will be a severe bias." As a related measure, our school is considering supporting full-time teachers in the department. Vice President Choi said, "The basic way is to expand the lectures in the field by recruiting professors who are highly favored by students," adding, "I think it is fair to allocate more resources according to demand and necessity." Also, the problem of lack of classrooms can be solved when the Songdo and Gimpo medical campuses are completed. In addition, a plan was discussed to increase students' learning options during a vacation through activation of the seasonal semester.
Previously departments of liberal studies have been established in various universities in Korea. Among them, let's look at the two cases of Seoul National University and Korea University, where their Departments of Liberal Studies are currently operating well with a distinctive curriculum. The following are the characteristics of Seoul National University's Department of Liberal Studies. First of all, undergraduates can choose their major regardless of credit if they satisfy the required liberal arts regulations such as writing, math, and foreign languages. At this time, students can choose all majors except those in the medical school, the veterinary school, the nursing school, and the teacher college. Unlike other schools' Department of Liberal Studies, this has a difference in that it is possible to select natural and entertainment fields in addition to humanities. Therefore, students from the humanities can major in science just like students from the natural sciences if they complete basic math courses. In addition, the Department of Liberal Studies at Seoul National University also operates a student design major system in which students create their own curriculum. In the case of Seoul National University's Department of Liberal Studies, students are required to complete two majors. It is necessary for students to take a major class in the Department of Liberal Studies. If students only want one major, they have to pass the internal interview of the Department of Liberal Studies. But it is very difficult to pass as it is contrary to the department’s purpose. The two majors selected at this time were both treated as main majors. Therefore, students who enter the department are treated equally in the course registration, etc. and they can change the order of the two majors on their resume. However, choosing a major does not mean that undergraduate belongs to the Department of Liberal Studies, nor do they participate in the events of the selected major. Furthermore, on documents such as diplomas, it is written as the Department of Liberal Studies. However, since both majors are main majors, it is impossible to recognize duplicate credits between main and double majors. There is no specific semester to choose a major, and the major can be decided at the end of each semester beginning from the second semester of the first grade, but graduation is impossible for four semesters after choosing the first major. According to school regulations, it is impossible to transfer to another department in the four semesters before graduation. Even if students choose a major, they will not be transferred to the department but will remain a member of the Department of Liberal Studies. In order to build a wide range of basic education that is not covered in existing liberal arts classes and to develop comprehensive and interdisciplinary thinking skills, they will take their own major classes. At this time, students in the Department of Liberal Studies must complete 18 credits separately from their main major. In fact, in the past, there has been a bias toward business administration and economics like in other schools. But since 2015, the proportion of those majors has decreased to less than 30% in combination. Since it is mandatory to complete two majors, even students who choose to major in economics often choose another major they want to study regardless of their career paths, such as a combination of economics and philosophy or business administration and information culture.
Next, let's look at the Department of Liberal Studies at Korea University. Korea University's Department of Liberal Studies is the same as other schools' Department of Liberal Studies in that students have a structure that must be used to search for their major in the first grade and choose one before the second grade. However, students are obliged to start a second major in public governance and leadership convergence from the first semester, which is a specialized major in the Department of Liberal Studies. Also, Korea University’s law school has an exclusive authority to operate undergraduate programs in the Department of Liberal Studies. The curriculum named Public Governance and Leadership Convergence is the same major that students in the Department of Liberal Studies must complete before graduation. It consists of subjects in law, economics, and administration. Therefore, undergraduates usually complete an outline of the law, classical studies, and civil law in their first year, and then took criminal law and constitution in their second year. After the assignment of a major, students complete the first major and the convergence major of Public Governance and Leadership. Therefore, the students belong to the Department of Liberal Studies, but their academic records belong to the college of their first major. In addition, the graduation certificate of undergraduates comes in the form of a Bachelor of Science in their first major and a Bachelor of Public Governance in their second major. For example, if students major in business administration as their first major, it comes in the form of a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Public Governance in the Department of Liberal Studies. The following is an interview with Jeon Ji-yeon, an undergraduate currently enrolled in the Department of Liberal Studies at Korea University on the study code which is a lecture site specializing in study law. Jeon Ji-yeon said that the ratio of undergraduates who want to go to law school seems to be higher than in other schools because they learn a lot about law in the department of Korea University. Also contrary to many people's concerns, the relationship between seniors and juniors in the Department of Liberal Studies is rather strong. In fact, there are many opportunities for exchanges between seniors and juniors in the department, including various meeting programs such as senior and junior matching. Finally, Jeon Ji-yeon evaluated the Department of Liberal Studies positively as she was very satisfied with her undergraduate choice in that she could take classes in different departments.
In this way, the Department of Liberal Studies provides students with opportunities to access various studies and strengthens students' choice of major. Accordingly, Inha University is currently actively promoting the establishment of a Department of Liberal Studies like other universities. Therefore, in order to smoothly reorganize the academic structure and improve the academic system, communication between schools and students should be activated through public hearings. In addition, we should all continue to pay close attention to the new Department of Liberal Studies on campus.