Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, driven into chaos by four student suicides this year, now appears to be recovering from the initial shock and looking for solutions to stressful campus life. KAIST will do well to take time in determining what to do to avoid similar tragedies, as advised by its board of directors.
Last week, the board of directors, after being briefed on remedial measures KAIST was planning to take, demanded that they be fully reviewed for improvement before being adopted and put into practice. Among the proposed measures were a cut in the number of classes conducted in English and the scrapping of what is called a “punitive tuition system.”
When the board called directors into an emergency session, it did not include among the agenda items the dismissal of Suh Nam-pyo as KAIST president, who some had misguidedly demanded be held accountable for the suicides. In a post-session briefing, the board said most directors endorsed anew the reforms being pursued by Suh.
As intended from the outset, KAIST has been a state-funded elite institution of higher education, to which only those who excel in mathematics and science in high school are admitted. Nonetheless, it has a long way to go before gaining international recognition. That is the main reason why Suh, a former MIT faculty member, was invited to jump-start reform at KAIST as its president.
Life at KAIST is stressful for undergraduates, many of them finding it extremely difficult to gain top scores, as they did in high school. KAIST will have to put more of its resources into mentoring, counseling and other student-assistance programs to prevent stressed students from being driven to suicide.
Separate from such efforts, reform should proceed unhindered at KIAST, whose mission is to foster scientists and engineers of the highest caliber.