Coursework boycotts could mean thousands of Korean med students are held back a grade

Posted on : 2024-03-06 17:25 KST Modified on : 2024-03-06 17:25 KST
Over 5,400 medical school students had applied for leaves of absence as of Monday evening, the Ministry of Education reported
Doctors pass through the lobby of Chonnam National University Hospital in Gwangju on Feb. 19. (Yonhap)
Doctors pass through the lobby of Chonnam National University Hospital in Gwangju on Feb. 19. (Yonhap)

Medical students across Korea are standing in solidarity with interns and residents protesting the planned increase in the nationwide medical college admission cap by boycotting classes and taking leaves of absences, prompting some to worry about mass flunking.
Many medical schools already postponed the beginning of the new semester once, to March 4, but are seriously considering further measures such as pushing back the start of the new semester once more as class boycotts continue.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Education announced that as of 6 pm on Monday, 5,401 medical students had applied for a leave of absence in accordance with relevant procedures. 

“Considering the number of medical students enrolled as of April 2023 (18,793), this percentage counts for 28.7% of medical students,” the ministry said.
The ministry excluded cases in which students applied for a leave of absence but failed to comply with the procedures and requirements set by their colleges by leaving out signatures from their academic advisors or parents.
If such invalid applications are also considered, the figure rises to more than 14,000 applications, accounting for more than two-thirds of all medical students in the country.
Medical students began boycotting classes on Feb. 20, the date declared by the Korean Medical Student Association as the start of the collective action.
In response, colleges have been delaying the beginning of the semester and are waiting for students to return. Gachon University’s medical school pushed back its start of the semester from mid-February to March 4, only to postpone the date once again to March 25.
Gyeongsang National University’s medical school has also postponed the start of the new semester from March 4 to March 15.
If class boycotts continue for an extended period of time, this could lead to thousands of students being held back. Most medical schools assign a failing grade to students who miss more than one-third or one-fourth of classes.
A dean of a medical school at a national university in the non-metropolitan area stated, “Simple calculation dictates that we need students to be back in class by early April to avoid the risk of flunking.”
Mass flunking may also negatively impact the quality of education in medical schools. Another dean of a private medical school outside of Seoul commented, “If students fail to move up a year, they’ll be stuck taking classes with freshmen. Seeing that the number of freshmen may increase in 2025 due to additional admission slots, it’ll be impossible for those who flunked a grade to receive a satisfying education.”
Medical students who were pressured into applying for leaves of absence and class boycotts are also expressing their dissatisfaction.
A medical student at a private university in the metropolitan area told the Hankyoreh, “There’s a lot of anxiety about the situation dragging out. But if we withdraw our applications for leave, we might be exposed for not joining the collective action.”

By Kim Min-je, staff reporter

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