In an article on a rash of suicides at South Korea’s prestigious Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technoloy, Mark McDonald describes a measure designed to spur academic performance:
Suh Nam-pyo, a renowned mechanical engineer who taught for many years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became president of Kaist in 2006. He soon instituted a series of changes aimed at modeling Kaist after M.I.T. and other world-class science and research universities. …
Mr. Suh also engineered a system that required students to pay extra tuition for each hundredth of a point that their grade point average fell below 3.0 (based on a 4.3-point system). All students pay a token fee each semester, Kaist administrators said, but otherwise their tuition is free, financed by government scholarships.
Under the so-called punitive tuition program, a bad semester could cost a student’s family thousands of dollars.
The program, which was applauded at first, has since led to deep humiliation and anxiety among many students. Those who struggled and lost their full rides suddenly saw themselves as losers. Some critics, calling it ruthless, even blamed the program for the recent suicides.
At an elite U.S. university, I have to assume that Mr. Suh’s reform would just lead to more grade inflation as students importuned their professors for higher marks. One day the Koreans will grow soft, but not just yet.