Government overrides Seoul's decision to cancel elite schools

A student prepares to sit the annual College Scholastic Ability Test, or college entrance exam, at the Poongmun high school in Seoul.

The Education Ministry has overturned Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education's decision to revoke six elite high schools of their privileges, officials said Tuesday.

It marked the latest move in a recent standoff between the ministry and the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education over autonomous private high schools.

Last month, Seoul education chief Cho Hi-yeon announced he would strip the schools of their elite status as part of his drive to achieve "educational equality." On the coattails of Cho's announcement, the Education Ministry had strongly urged Cho not to go through with the cancellation, accusing him of illegally abusing his position as the education chief.

In a bid to make a stronger statement, the ministry said Tuesday it was overriding SMOE's decision. It cited a clause in the regional autonomy law that states if a head of an autonomous government body makes an order that is illegal or is against the public interest, the relevant minister can cancel or suspend it.

The six schools appear to have dodged the bullet for now and will retain their privileges, including leeway over curriculum and the right to collect higher tuition fees than other schools.

But the tussle over the autonomous schools is far from over. SMOE vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Both the Education Ministry and SMOE are have claimed they each have the final say on matters related to the elite schools.