Turmoil weighs down on the state-run Korea National University of Arts following reports of admission fraud involving double bass professor Lee Ho-gyo. Lee is under investigation for abusing his status by receiving money from the parents of applicants in exchange for getting them enrolled in the school. / Korea Times
By Na Jeong-ju
Kim, a 22-year-old double bassist attending the Korea National University of Arts (K-Arts), one of the best art schools here, still vividly remembers when he first met professor Lee Ho-gyo in early 2010.
His father arranged the meeting after he failed the annual college admission exam the previous year. Kim was advised to take private lessons from Lee, the only professor teaching double bass in the school.
“I thought taking lessons directly from Lee was a great opportunity for me to become a musician and enter college although it would cost a lot,” Kim said in a telephone interview. “My father told me that I don’t have to worry about money and just practice hard. So I did and eventually entered K-Arts’ music school.”
Later, he found out that Lee was a greedy, dishonest man using his status to extort money from parents of applicants and “sell” admissions.
Lee is now under investigation by the prosecution for allegedly receiving billions of won from parents since 2006 in return for giving them high scores so they could gain admittance. Lee also illegally tutored 13 students. All of them were accepted later by the music school.
Kim is one of the 13 students facing expulsion for alleged admission fraud. “I have long dreamed of becoming the most famous double bassist in the world. But my dream might be shattered,” he said.
According to the prosecution, the 45-year-old professor was able to fabricate admission test scores because he was the only double bass major among the professors at the school.
He reportedly received 150,000 won ($130) for a one-hour lesson. He pocketed some 40 million won through illegal tutoring. Under the law, only pre-registered lecturers can give paid private lessons, but he failed to report to authorities.
In one case, he compelled a female student to buy his instrument, saying it was a masterpiece produced in the 19th century in Italy. The student’s parents paid 160 million won for the instrument because they were afraid otherwise the professor might give her a low score. The instrument was found to be a fake.
Pointy tip of iceberg
The education ministry said Lee’s fabrication of test scores was a criminal act, and it deprived qualified applicants of their chance for admission.
The case in K-Arts indicates that cash-for-admission practices continue at local universities despite the government’s repeated pledges to root out corruption in college admissions.
Many incidents of fraud at colleges of art and physical education were uncovered this year.
According to the ministry, nine universities were found to have spent up to 2.9 billion won ($2.57 million) to attract 72 athletes between 2009 and 2011 in violation of the government’s guidelines prohibiting such practices.
Some private schools hired scouts to attract promising athletes. The government banned such practices following a series of reports on corrupt deals involving parents, coaches and universities.
It also said some professors of an art college in Seoul allegedly colluded to give high scores to certain applicants and many art professors give expensive private lessons to high school students, which is illegal.
“One college was found to have paid a huge amount of money to a high school in return for attracting seven talented athletes from that school,” a ministry official said. “Some applicants for a physical education college even submitted falsified credentials on achievements at local and international competitions to gain admission.”
In a separate case, at least seven unqualified students were found to have entered local colleges between 2009 and 2011 on admission allotments for children of Koreans living abroad, a system introduced in 1977 to give chances to children of Koreans from overseas to study at local schools. The students allegedly submitted manipulated records showing the period of overseas residence and academic achievements to gain admission.
Experts say the college admission process has become very complicated and universities diversified ways to accept students, making it possible for such fraud to keep taking place.
“Universities have introduced a variety of admissions sessions so that they can recruit better students from various fields,” said Cho Jae-hun, a civic activist in Seoul who has campaigned to address a competition-oriented educational system.
“In addition, excessive competition among students for college entrance has damaged the spirit of equal educational opportunities. The crimes demonstrate how students, parents and college officials collaborate to commit admissions irregularities.”