|▲ A freshman is racking his brain to figure out a way to cover an expensive tuition. /Photograph by Kim You-jeong|
Choi Min-ah, a sophomore studying in the Department of Sociology, spent most of her winter break working at a cafe and giving tutors to students. She needed to work all seven days of a week so she can earn enough money to cover next semester’s tuition. “I am tired of working every day, but I do not have any other choices because I do not want to take out loans.”
Students who do not have enough time to work as a part-timer have no other options than to take out loans. Hong Se-mi, a junior majoring in Computer Engineering, had a lot of studying to do that he did not have enough hours to save for his tuition. He has been taking out loans ever since he entered the school. “I already have debt of 15 million won under my name and I am worried that it will take a long time till I have it paid off,” said Park in a worrisome tone.
Whilst many students are suffering from the burden of paying tuition, this school year’s tuition was reduced only by 0.17percent, which is worth of around 6,000 won per semester. The tuition is still skyrocketing high and students who do not receive scholarships must seek out for ways to solve this problem. The real problem, however, lies in the fact that not a lot of students are aware of how the tuition is decided and most just conform to the amount without much analysis.
Dongguk University, as well as every university in South Korea, decides on tuition through a convention by a Tuition Deliberation Committee. In 2010, the revised bill of Higher Education Act enforced an article that every university needs to form a Tuition Deliberation Committee to decide each school year’s tuition. The Ministry of Government Legislation states that a Tuition Deliberation Committee must be composed of students, parents, school personnel, and/or an external expertise, where each constituent unit must not be comprised as half of the total number of members. The number of student committee must be at least 30 percent of the whole member.
For this year’s meetings, the committee was comprised of two professors, two school personnel, two undergraduate student representatives, two graduate student representatives, and one external expertise. The members were: Lee Hak-noh (Professor of International Trade Major), Kwak Chae-gi (Professor of Public Administration Major), Shin Gi-hun (Head of Budget Strategies Team), Byun Min-woo (Head of Student Service Team), Kim Byung-jun (President of Graduate School Student Council), Woo Hong (Vice President of Graduate School Student Council), Jung Won-bin (President of Undergraduate School Student Council), Choi Gwang-baek (President of College of Social Science Student Council), and Goo Ja-myung, an external expertise.
A total of four meetings were held during the winter break; the first meeting on January 16th, second on January 21st, third on January 24th and lastly on January 27th. The first meeting date was decided by the Budget Strategies Team after considering the date of the conference of the board of trustees and their personal schedules. It was then informed to the student representatives through the Student Service Team. The rest of the meeting dates were decided after each meeting was over. Jung Won-bin, the President of Student Council, complained to such scheduling by saying, “The school should also consider the schedule of students, so that we can be properly prepared for such an important meeting.”
As to briefly summarize what agendas were on the table in each meeting, Jung said, “The school personnel first insisted on two percent increase of tuition due to the inflation rate. We demanded that the school’s corporate body take the responsibility of the payment due and the misused tuition as private school pension.” Each side’s demands had their own reasons but students could not hold a strong argument point, because they were not provided with the financial data beforehand. The student representatives were only allowed to read the budget report of 2013 and budget plan of 2014 in the meeting room, which made it difficult for them to comprehend the whole data in a limited amount of time.
During the second and third meeting, the school suggested freezing the tuition by neither raising nor deducting, but the student body turned down the proposal with a reason that the school corporation has approximately 6.4 billion won due to pay. Nonetheless, in the end, during the fourth meeting, the school came up with 0.17 percent reduction of tuition, which the student body had no other options to just agree.
This is how Dongguk University decided on this year’s tuition-through four seemingly democratic meetings. However, some student organizations, such as Deungbawi (Correct Use of Tuition Committee), showed disatisfaction towards the reduction rate, saying the school is not efficiently using the tuition. The committee even held a press conference on February 13th, led by Choi Eun-mi, the president of General Girl Student Council, who mentioned, “The school needs to properly address the use of tuition and strive to improve the educational environment.” Several picket demonstrations also followed.
The school and student body do not seem to be on the same line about the tuition deliberation, as seen in various picket demonstrations and protests. Each side has their own reasons to back up the arguments that frequently arise and that have yet to be settled down. The following are some of the arguments.
A Dispute for a Change or an Ostensible Act?
Both school and students express different opinions regarding tuition settlement
The financial data was not provided ahead of time and they were not complete data.
Students : The Student Council requested for 2013’s budget report and 2014’s budget plan before the first meeting was held, but the school provided them with 2012’s budget report and 2013’s budget plan, which are unrelated to deciding 2014’s tuition. They were left with no choice but to participate in the meeting without any knowledge on school’s budget plan. The school allowed them to read the budget report and plan during the second meeting, but they did not have any special knowledge to decipher the complicated financial data. Moreover, the data provided was not complete, with only 20 pages of summarized budget plans. (Jung Won-bin, Choi Gwang-baek)
School : The school does not and cannot provide the budge report and plan ahead to the students or any public members due to security reasons. They are concerned about the financial data being exposed to outside, so they allowed the committee members to only read them in the Student Service Center during the term when the meetings were held. The data the school provides within the meeting is not the complete document, but the ones in the Student Service Center is. Students are allowed to visit the place in person and read them. By doing so, the school does not violate any currentlaws regarding the exposure of budget data. (Kim Ji-woo, Budget Strategies Team)
The Corporation of Dongguk University must pay up the due allotment.
Students : It is without doubt that the corporation should pay up the due allotment. Currently, 70 percent of school budget is covered with tuition. A total of 6.4 billion won must be paid more by the corporation body, so that tuition dependence could become lower, but until today, the corporate has not paid fully. Every year, the corporation must pay around 8 billion won to properly operate the university, but they have not been fulfilling it. The school insists that the school cannot do much to change the situation it is one of the affiliated organizations of the corporation. Students have been demanding a conference where they can have a chance to meet up with the board in person.
School : The problem of corporation allotment is what every private university in South Korea is suffering from. The problem, however, is not due to the corporation itself, but the government and its laws. The amount the corporation wants to pay is all up to them, so they are not doing anything technically wrong. It is stated in the law that a corporation must provide the affiliated organization with enough money to operate, but no specific regulations, such as to how much and how often, are written down. The Ministry of Education is not much strict on corporations, which means that this chronic problem is going to take a long time and endless effort to be completely solved.
The external expertise of Tuition Deliberation Committee should be selected by students.
Students : It is stated in the article of Higher Education Act that an external expertise who has no personal relations with school nor student must be chosen. Ironically, though, the right to recommend external expertise is in the hands of school. Therefore, students have no way of figuring out if the chosen expertise has any private relations with the school personnel or not. The students have been ceaselessly asking for the recommendation right to be given to students, but it was not accepted by the school.
School : The external expertise is carefully selected by considering many factors, such as his or her past professional experience and the amount of time he or she has been serving in the field. The school always tries its best to avoid choosing someone that can arouse student’s dislike which can result in year-long protests. The school wants to assure the students to not be worried about the credibility of the expert chosen by school, since the school puts in the best and sincere effort in selecting the expertise who can fairly deliberate tuition.
The reduction rate of 0.17 percent is insufficient.
Students : The school came up with the reduction rate of 0.17 percent during the fourth meeting. Naturally the student representatives could not agree with the number and asked for a higher reduction rate. However, they could not come up with specific number and reasons that could support the proposal, again, because they did not have the financial data in their hands that they could freely study. The students ended up accepting the rate of 0.17 percent because it was already the last meeting the Tuition Deliberating Committee was holding.
School : The rate was decided after considering both the nominal tuition and actual tuition. There are many factors the school has to calculate regarding the tuition. For instance, if more students from colleges with higher tuition fees, such as College of Engineering, enter than students from colleges with comparatively less expensive tuition, the total tuition income will rise. In this case, the school cannot receive governmental scholarships. Therefore, when the number of freshmen and other factors were all considered, the rate of 0.17 percent seemed most appropriate.
Solutions Provided by Each Party
Jung Won-bin pled that all the arguments mentioned above are due to the unclear financial data and the way school communicates with students. She said, “It is not a simple matter to be solved, but if the school provides clear budget data, students can analyze it and learn if our tuition is being properly spent. Then we will have the basis to make judgment of whether the school is providing students with appropriate service.”
As the arguments of tuition continue to exist, both student representatives and school have been struggling to find the solution that can satisfy both sides. A section chief of the Budget Strategies Team, Kim Ji-woo, said, “The school will continue to provide high quality service to students based on income besides from tuition and corporation allotment.” She mentioned that the school will seek for revenue-making businesses such as providing more classes in Lifelong Education Center, developing Chungmuro Film Gallery into a hotel, and collecting more donation.
Student representatives, too, plan to continue with solution seeking. According to Jung Won-bin and Choi Gwang-baek, the first thing that must be done is to collect the student opinions and let them be aware of the whole situation. “It is essential that students become more informed and interested in the matter,” said Jung. In order for students to be well-informed, the Student Council will conduct a survey, hold several campaigns and make use of the online community. Jung does not think that the students will immediately show interest, but her goal is to “have students acknowledge the problem by themselves through our activities.”
The school does not seem to be against the idea of tuition related campaigns or protests. “We will not stop any campaigns or activities of students. Since we delivered the school's side during the meetings, we are hoping that students can accept and understand where the school stands,” Kim Ji-woo responded to the question of reaction that school is going to show towards student protests or campaigns on tuition.
After long years of studying, students entered universities with high hopes and dreams. However, what students face are burdensomely expensive tuition fee and another intense competition and stress for higher grades. According to the Education At a Glance (EAG) report released by OECD in 2013, South Korea was ranked in the fourth place in average tuition fee of private university, followed by the U.S, Slovenia, and Australia. The tuition is considered rather expensive compared to GDP per capita of the nation.
Students work as part-timers to pay their tuition and they even take out loans. Students’ lives are as tough as ever and there seems to be no solution to be given in the near future. Conflicts between the school and students will not easily disappear. What is important is to understand both sides and come up with compromises that can help improve students’ lives, which is the most important part of every argument.
Also, tuition problem is not just between the school and students, but also on School Corporation and government. It is time the corporation and government work out real solutions that can ease off the burden on students’ shoulders, whose only job is to study and study only.
The situation might not seem that bright at the moment, as the society itself is too competitive that even tuition deliberation itself is a competition. If universities of higher rankings decide to raise the tuition, other private universities have no better options than to follow the trend. Even though there is a neccessity to see the whole problem in a big picture, details need to be paid attention to as well.
Tuition Watchdog Missing
Now that the problems in tuition deliberating process is outspoken, an evaluation must be done on how little interest students have on tuition that more than directly influence the school life. It is an undeniable fact that not a lot of students understand the whole process or even know the exact date of each meeting. Both presidents of Student Council and College of Social Science Student Council picked the biggest problem as the lack of keen interest from students.
The two councils have been paying much effort in trying to earn interest from students through online and offline grounds. The Student Council, for instance, continuously posted the result of each meeting on their Facebook page, which, despite the effort, failed to earn much “likes.” Out of its 4,800 friends, a mere 100 of them pressed the “like” button, a measure of interest on Facebook. “Students these days are too occupied with their studies and career-planning that they show indifference in school administrative issues,” said Jung Won-bin.
It was especially obvious during the protest that was held after the first deliberation meeting. Around 20 people, including the Vice President of Student Council Park Woong-jin, gathered up in front of the Main Hall, where the meeting was being held. Not a single person could be seen besides the 20 protesting students and the reporters of Dongguk Media Center, which made the scene almost too bleak. The situation was not any better during the press conference arranged in Paljeongdo by Deungbawi.
“We cannot hold students accountable for their lack of interest. Rather, it should be blamed on the society,” lamented Choi Kwang-baek on the difficulty of carrying out council activities. However, he added that there is still a chance to draw students’ attention. “In times like this, student councils must come up with strategies to win the hearts of students by answering to their needs and wants.”
As student opinions are the most powerful weapon that councils can arm themselves with, both Jung and Choi are planning various activities and campaigns that can build a strong bond between councils and students. Beginning from this semester, students will be able to spot the council members in every corner of the campus, urging for students’ support. The journey of earning every student’s heart may be rough, but as hard earned is more precious, every heart won will be the biggest reinforcement that the councils will ever have.
Lee So-young, Kim You-jeong firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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