In protest of med school quota increase, Korean med students plan collective leave of absence

Posted on : 2024-02-19 16:55 KST Modified on : 2024-02-19 16:55 KST
Taking a leave of absence would prevent fourth-year students from being able to take the required licensing exam later this year
Medical staff at Chosun University Hospital in Gwangju walk through the medical center on Feb. 16. Seven residents at the hospital tendered their resignation to the hospital that day. (Yonhap)
Medical staff at Chosun University Hospital in Gwangju walk through the medical center on Feb. 16. Seven residents at the hospital tendered their resignation to the hospital that day. (Yonhap)

Medical students across Korea have vowed to take a collective leave of absence to protest the government’s policy efforts to increase the country’s medical school admission quota. The government has responded by emphasizing that leaves of absence are not permitted if they violate university policies or state law. The state has called on universities to strictly discipline any students who partake in the movement.  

On Sunday, the Ministry of Education confirmed that around 160 medical students at Wonkwang University applied for a leave of absence the prior evening. The applications were submitted, however, without parental approval and without going through the dean. Both processes are required by the university’s internal regulations. Medical students at Hallym University announced on Thursday that fourth-year medical students would collectively take a leave of absence. Yet the university had received no applications for a leave of absence. 

The student representatives of 40 medical schools affiliated with the Korea Association of Medical Colleges (KAMC) convened an extraordinary general meeting of the association’s emergency measures committee on Friday evening. The committee voted to oppose the government’s measures to increase the number of medical students nationwide by taking a collective leave of absence starting Tuesday, Feb. 20. 

In a KAMC survey (Feb. 15-16) conducted on medical students nationwide, over 90% of respondents said that they approved of the leave of absence. The association did not publicly reveal the exact wording of the survey or the precise number of respondents. Medical schools typically begin classes in February, as opposed to other colleges that typically begin in March.   

It remains to be seen whether the students who approved the absence will actually walk off campus. Many students will likely change their minds after reflecting on the personal consequences of leaves of absence. Moreover, many schools like Hallym University require parental approval before officially sanctioning an academic leave of absence.

The Ministry of Education has requested that the universities involved thoroughly review their respective internal policies before deciding to sanction or reject the applications for a collective leave of absence. According to the Higher Education Act, the ultimate authority regarding an academic leave of absence is exercised by a respective university’s dean. Valid reasons for taking a leave of absence — such as military service, pregnancy and childcare — are determined by the individual universities. 

The Ministry of Education does not have the jurisdiction to discipline the students directly. On Friday, the ministry convened an emergency committee to assess the situation regarding 40 universities nationwide. The committee held an online meeting with the schools’ deans of academic affairs, and requested strict disciplinary actions regarding unauthorized leaves of absence. 

If a university decides to violate its own internal policies to approve a leave of absence, the Ministry of Education may respond with an administrative measure. 

“The ministry may issue an administrative correction order,” said an Education Ministry official during a phone interview with the Hankyoreh. 

If fourth-year medical students decide to live up to their promise to take a collective leave of absence, then they may be prevented from taking their licensing exam for a full year. To qualify for the exam, students must have already graduated from medical school or be scheduled to graduate at least six months before they take the exam. A leave of absence at the start of this academic year would delay their graduation, thus making it impossible for them to take the licensing exam scheduled for later this year. 

By Kim Min-je, staff reporter

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