The Education Law of 1949 provided for a centralized system under the control of the Ministry of Education and made the six-year elementary schools free and compulsory for children between 6 and 12 years of age. Secondary education begins at 12 years of age and lasts for up to six years, which are divided into two cycles of three years each. Children attend middle school for three years, and subsequently attend either general academic high school or vocational high school for the remaining three years. In 1998 there were 3,794,447 students in 5,721 primary schools, with 122,743 teachers. Student-to-teacher ratio stood at 31 to 1. In 1997, secondary schools enrolled 4,662,492 students and employed 192,947 teachers. Also in 1997, all post-secondary institutions had a combined enrollment of 2,541,659 students and 114,231 teachers. As of 1999, 97% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while 94% of those eligible attended secondary school.
The leading government university is Seoul National University. The principal private institutions, all of them in Seoul, are Korea, Sung Kyun Kwan, Yonsei, Hanyang, Chungang, and Ewha universities; the last named is one of the largest women's universities in the world. The country had a total of 121 colleges and universities in 1996, along with 335 graduate schools with a combined 1,556,949 students enrolled. For the year 2000, UNESCO estimated the rate of adult illiteracy at 2.2% (males, 0.8%; females, 3.6%). In the latter half of the 1990s, the government allocated approximately 17.5% of its total expenditure to education. As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 4.1% of GDP.