The Korea Herald


Presidential office denies deferring med student hike

By Park Jun-hee

Published : April 8, 2024 - 15:06

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Medical personnel walks down the corridor at a university hospital in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap) Medical personnel walks down the corridor at a university hospital in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

The presidential office said Monday that it has no plan to defer the medical school admissions quota hike, fueling confusion both in the government and medical community, which briefly saw the possibility for dialogue over the matter.

“The government has never reviewed postponing the plan for a year, nor will it do so in the future,” an official from the presidential office told reporters during a closed-door briefing, reiterating that the government remains unchanged on its medical reforms.

The comment comes after Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo hinted at changes in the scheme earlier in the day when asked if the government would continue to hold fast to its plan.

“Reversing the already announced allocations would create confusion. (But) making changes to the final college admissions guidelines for the 2025 school year is not physically impossible,” Park explained, adding that the government would conduct an internal review.

While dismissing Park’s comments, however, the presidential official welcomed any move forward on a negotiation framework. The government is “open to discussion” over the issue if the medical circle comes up with a “unified proposal” based on scientific and rational grounds, the official reiterated.

The confusion followed a day onward after the Korean Medical Association -- the largest coalition of doctors’ groups here, with some 140,000 members -- on late Sunday demanded that the government reconsider the quota increase “from scratch,” calling on it to postpone the plan for a year.

The KMA also requested that the government form a committee to discuss what an appropriate increase would be so that the changes could be implemented for the 2026 academic year.

Kim Sung-geun, head of the KMA’s public relations council, also said the medical circle would devise a single, unified proposal by garnering opinions from the medical community on the government’s plan to increase the number of admitted medical school students by 2,000 per year starting next year.

He added that the KMA would hold a joint press briefing with trainee doctors, medical students and professors after the April 10 general election, in an attempt to break the stalemate.

Despite the continued impasse, Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said during Monday’s government response meeting that the government is ready to discuss the quota hike with the medical community in an “open manner.”

“(The decision) to add 2,000 new slots in the medical school enrollment quota was determined through scientific research examined carefully. (But) to resolve the conflict, (we) will sincerely engage in dialogue,” Cho was quoted as saying.

“If (the medical circle) offers a more rational and unified proposal based on scientific evidence and logic, the government will join in talks with an open-minded attitude,” Cho added.

In a radio interview with SBS the same day, Jang Sang-yoon, senior presidential secretary for social affairs, also said he “positively assesses” the recent meeting between President Yoon Suk Yeol and Park Dan, the head of the Korean Intern Resident Association.

“(The meeting) lasted for two hours and 20 minutes.. ... In a way, it showed the government’s sincere willingness to talk (with the medical community) because (Yoon) spent more time listening (to the KIRA chief) than in summit talks,” Jang noted, using the Korean traditional expression, “you can’t get full with just one spoonful” to suggest that repeated efforts would be needed.

“(The two) talked and listened (to each other), and there’s no change in the government’s will to continue negotiations,” Jang said.

Meanwhile, a group of professors sent letters to the presidents of their respective universities on Monday asking them to file administrative lawsuits to avert the expansion plan after the Seoul Administrative Court dismissed their requests last week.

The court said in its ruling that medical professors are not eligible to file an injunction request, but university presidents can.