Inequality in South Korea: Degrees of disenchantment
Young people are losing faith in an elitist education system.
“If you don't have the ability then blame your parents,” wrote Jung Yoo-ra on social media in 2014, after being accepted into a prestigious university.
Her mother, it turns out, had gone to great lengths to secure a spot for her, inducing Ehwa Women's University to alter its admissions policy in a manner tailor-made for Ms Jung.
Last month a court ruled that the nine people involved in this subterfuge had fundamentally shaken the “values of fairness that prop up our society”.
Above all, the “feelings of emptiness and betrayal they caused in hardworking students” could not be excused.
University was once seen as a source of social mobility in South Korea.
But so important is the right degree to a student's prospects in life that rich families began spending heavily on coaching to improve their children's chances, leaving poorer families behind.
By 2007 over three-quarters of students were receiving some form of private tuition, spawning a maxim about the three necessities to win a place at a good university: “father's wealth, mother's information, child's stamina”.
A report by the ministry of education found that in 2016 households with monthly incomes of 7m won ($6,230) or more were spending 443,000 won a month on private education, nine times as much as families bringing in 1m won or less.
Many South Koreans believe that the rich and influential do not just spend more on education, they also manipulate the system, as Ms Jung's mother, a close friend of the previous president, did so spectacularly.
According to the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, only a fifth of those aged 18-33 believe that working hard brings success.
An ever-growing dictionary of slang attests to the perception: people speak of using “back” (backing, or connections) to get jobs; when Ms Jung refused to return to South Korea to face charges related to her university admission, the local press dubbed it a “gold-spoon escape”.
And 34% of young people say they feel “isolation due to academic cliques” at work.