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South Korea: Education Ministry investigates top university for allegedly granting favors to president’s friend

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Amid the presidential scandal currently engulfing South Korea, a university has been implicated for showing favor to Choi Soon-sil, a close confidante of President Park Geun-hye.

Thousands of South Koreans have been demonstrating on the streets of Seoul ever since the scandal broke at the end of October that Choi, who holds no official post, has been using her connection to Park to influence government decisions.

Among the many allegations, Choi has also been accused of using her power to get her daughter Chung Yoo-ra, 19, admitted to one of the country’s top universities, Ewha Womans University.

The university was said to have added equestrianism to the list of sports eligible for preferential treatment so that Chung could gain a place, as she is a member of the national dressage team.

On Monday, the Ministry of Education announced that it had launched a special investigation into the claims after Choi was detained by authorities for questioning.

“We’ll look into whether the change in the school rule, which was found to be favorable to the student, was made under proper procedures, and whether professors applied fair standards in evaluating her [Chung’s] attendance and assignments,” said Education Minister Lee Joon-sik, as quoted by University World News.

He added that the ministry has already requested for Ewha to submit all relevant documents.

Upon inspecting the documents, the ministry reportedly found evidence that Chung was awarded generous grades for assignments she had not submitted.

However, according to the university, it has an internal policy that all students who perform well in sports and the arts are to at least receive a B grade or above, even if they hadn’t taken the exams or done the assignments.

Should the ministry find that Chung had indeed received special treatment, she could be expelled from the university and be banned from her sport.

Under new measures covering cases of corruption and admissions irregularities involving athletes – jointly drawn up earlier this year by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism – Ewha could also face punishment, including a 10 percent reduction in its intake for the next academic year, which would put a significant dent in its budget.

Public anger over the news prompted the university’s president, Choi Kyung-hee, to tender her resignation on October 19.

In her resignation letter, Choi swore that no favoritism was shown to Chung: “That is not simply possible at Ewha.”

Some have also urged the ministry to look into allegations that the university had received government funding for several projects as a “reward” for showing preferential treatment to Chung.

Image via the Associated Press

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