The members of the Univnet are protesting for the return of tuition.
/Photography from the Univnet
Universities cannot exist without students, since they are the ones that provide higher education and help students become true members of the society. Therefore, it is most important for universities to always put students first. However, when we take a look at current universities, “A school for students” is nothing but an ideal, as students’ satisfactions toward their school lack compared to the tuition fee amounting to millions of won. The problem is, universities, that should treat students important, do not care much about their complaints. Then, what do students think is lacking in their universities? Also, what type of university do students really want?
Students want the school to increase the course registration capacity
“I cannot understand why the school does not increase the course registration capacity even when certain lectures are only available for certain grades.”, “I think I cannot graduate because of only one lecture I could not register for.”, “It does not make sense that the schools inhibit us from registering for lectures while receiving expensive tuition. I think they are only interested in making money through seasonal semesters.” During registration periods, these kinds of writings always appear on Everytime, the school’s online community site.
Lee A-yeon, a junior of Department of English language and Literature of Sungshin Women’s University, said, “There are some compulsory lectures that students should register for in a specific grade. However, some people could not graduate since the course registration capacity was insufficient. Therefore, some people pleaded with the professor to let them attend the lecture.”
Of course, schools have no choice but to limit the number of students because the number of students available in classrooms is limited. However, some major subjects have absurdly small course registration capacity, although they are compulsory. Also, some students who failed to register for lectures that are available only to a certain grade and at specific times, or who unwillingly gave up a lecture since it does not fit their timetables, should take a seasonal semester to avoid extra semesters. That is, while students pay expensive tuition, they cannot apply for the lecture that they want, and they may pay more money for seasonal semesters. In addition, many students complain about their universities because they do not increase course registration capacity although they will offer most lectures online due to COVID-19.
Lee Je-joon, the president of General Student Council (GSC), said, “The professor is the final arbiter of the course capacity. The school has its own guideline (for the course capacity). When we pre-apply for lectures, if a lecture is applied for by more than 200% of its original capacity, the corresponding professor is asked to divide the class into two classes. If the professor does not admit, the original class remains, with no additional class.” Actually, the Department of Business Administration increased some course registration capacity according to students’ needs this semester. He added, “As we take lectures online due to COVID-19, the request to increase the course capacity was also conveyed to professors. Students might think it is okay to have a lot of students in case of theory class. However, many professors insist that if the course registration capacity increases, the amount of gradings increases and eventually students’ right to study would be violated. Also, I guess the course capacity was decreased this semester since professors felt uncomfortable with the online system.”
Students want lectures of high quality
Although the items of lecture assessments vary from school to school, most of them consist of questions regarding “preparation and sincerity of lecture,” “content and level of lecture” and “communication with students.” This is because both the students and the schools agree that such items influence the quality of a lecture. In this respect, some professors have been providing low-quality lectures so far with lack of class preparedness, and students also have been affected due to the problem in the “revision of the Higher Education Act” and COVID-19.
Problems of the instructor law affect both instructors and students
The revision of the Higher Education Act, also known as the instructor law, is a law enforced since August 1st, 2019, to stabilize employment and improve treatment of part-time instructors at the universities. The main contents are as follows: the university should give instructors the status of university faculty, hire instructors for at least one year, guarantee reappointment procedures for three years, pay during the vacation and so on.
Most universities had hired low wage part-time instructors for their profit. However, after the law was enforced, they embarked on massive layoffs, increased large-scale lectures and reduced graduation credit. Also, they asked the instructors to take the position as an adjunct professor so as not to be fired, which means they should have another job in addition to teaching at the university, because the position is not regulated by the instructor law. The instructor law is not just a matter of instructors. If an instructor is fired from a university, the students’ right to choose lectures will be violated, and their qualities will be reduced. As the number of instructors decreases and thus the number of students or lectures under the care of one instructor increases, the preparation of lectures takes a long time, which inevitably affects their qualities. Also, if the number of students in a class is high, it is difficult for instructors to give feedback on assignments or exams to each student. In addition, some students have to register for lectures without knowing who will teach as completing the recruitment of instructors is often delayed.
Concerning this, Korea Higher Education Institution (KHEI) said that since the university authorities also participated in the consultative body and agreed on the instructor law, they should make efforts to raise funds for the implementation of the law and expand the hiring of instructors. Above all, the budget for improving the treatment of part-time instructors has been set aside only for three years. Therefore, if the government’s support is suspended, the dismissal of instructors will inevitably become worse. Also, mid to long term support measures should be devised to ensure that the instructor law can be settled at universities.
Some professors have a half-hearted attitude toward online lectures
Some professors’ half-hearted attitudes toward online lectures were further highlighted at most universities. Of course, many professors have made efforts to provide additional class materials to help students understand their course easily. However, some professors’ attitudes of playing old recorded lectures or giving assignments instead of lectures have become controversial.
Lee Jin-ju, a sophomore of the Department of Western Painting of Sungshin Women’s University, said, “Originally, professors provide the characteristics of materials that they know and the working sources of various artists with quick feedback. However, after online lectures began, although we sent our work statuses every Sunday, a professor gave us irregular and late feedback. When he gave us feedback on Friday or Saturday, we had to tightly work during the remaining time, reducing the perfection of the work.” She added, “Another professor from the film photography lecture, which is famous for systematic theory and hard practice, mostly used PowerPoint slides, and there was no particular lecture or practice.”
This is the result of a survey on tuition refund conducted by the Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission.
/Extracted from Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission
Tuition return debate flared due to COVID-19
It was impossible to give face-to-face lectures during the first semester of the university, since the period when the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Korea rapidly increased overlapped with the opening of the university. Therefore, students at the College of Arts and College of Engineering, who need to take practical and hands-on lectures, could not learn properly. The difference in the quality between face-to-face lectures and online lectures was also a problem. The reasons were the inability of immediate communication between professors and students and the disruption of lectures due to technical problems. Also, some professors replaced part of their classes with assignments. For these reasons, students demanded the partial return of the tuition.
Tuition return debate continues
Most universities refused to return tuition or did not answer clearly. They said that they already spent a considerable amount of money on fixed labor costs, establishing an online lecture system, and anti-virus costs. On July 29th, an informal meeting was held between student members of the Seoul National University’s tuition review committee and school officials to discuss the return of tuition. However, the school said it would not return the tuition, due to the expense of COVID-19.
The students are resentful of the schools’ attitude toward this debate. There are some universities that return tuition as much as 10 percent or less, such as Jeonbuk National University and Konkuk University. However, students think ten percent is not enough, as universities hold a large amount of money such as donations. Thus, complaints about not using them to return tuition to students have increased. Kim, a sophomore of Yonsei University, said, “I questioned about the fact that I have to pay the same tuition as before even though I am taking online lectures, and school buildings or amenities are unavailable.” She also said it was hard to concentrate on the class since some professors were not used to the online lecture platform and could not progress the class smoothly. Kim also added, “Taking classes orderly was also difficult when lecture videos were not uploaded regularly.”
The ministry of education thinks universities should use their reserve funds
The Private School Act stipulates that the amount of money needed to allow the construction, extension and repairment of educational facilities, the payment of scholarships for students, and the support of research activities of faculty members, can be reserved. This is called the “reserve fund.” According to the KHEI, Hongik University had the largest reserve fund of 757 billion won, followed by Yonsei University (637.1 billion won) and Ewha Womans University (636.8 billion won) in February this year.
On July 31st, the ministry of education announced “the basic plan for a project to provide emergency support for online lectures at universities.” The purpose of this project is to ensure that subsidies are used in areas of improving the quality of online lectures and education environment, anti-virus costs, and purchasing experimental and practical equipment. However, not all universities can benefit. 20 universities that have more than 100 billion won of reserve funds, such as Hongik University, Yonsei University, Ewha University, and Korea University, will be excluded from this project. The exclusion reflects the public opinion that it is inappropriate to pay subsidies from taxpayers’ money to universities with enough available money. This also means that the ministry of education wants universities to use their reserve funds.
On the other hand, universities argue that if the reserve fund is used for returning tuition, it will disrupt future plans. They also complain about receiving negative attention since they have collected reserve funds without illegal accumulation and being excluded from the support project because the reserve funds are a little over 100 billion won. Kim Hye-joo, a sophomore of Yonsei University, said, “First of all, while our school is known to have a lot of reserve funds, the school has been silent on requests for tuition returns. Also, the online lecture system due to COVID-19 has not progressed smoothly, which made the students even angrier.” She also said, “However, I have heard some students saying that they can understand the difficulty of returning tuition, since the school said that even giving 10 percent of the tuition back to all students could cause problems later when money is needed, like building reconstruction.” Lee So-young, a freshman of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of Ewha Womans University, said, “Our school has established a system such as Ewha welfare scholarship and used the reserve fund. So, I can understand the school for not using the reserve fund to return tuition.” However, she said that the tuition must be returned since students’ right to take lectures and use school facilities have been violated. “If using the reserve fund is difficult, tuition should be returned in other ways, such as using other budgets like donations from graduates or reducing tuition for the next semester.”
What is needed to resolve the tuition return problem?
According to “The finance of private university looking back through COVID-19, problem and improvement plan,” report written by KHEI, universities need to run finances sensibly. “Universities have long complained of financial difficulties due to the tuition freeze and a decrease in the number of the school-age population, but they have saved reserve funds with tuition fees paid by students and so on. However, school scholarship and other educational conditions that directly affect students’ studies have not changed much over the past five years. Assets being spent are steadily decreasing, but it is also necessary to examine whether it is appropriate at a time when education-related spending is at a standstill. To this end, the monitoring of university members should also be expanded.”
Universities have been collecting expensive tuition while providing low-quality education, communicating insufficiently, and running the accounts in a murky way, which are some reasons of why students do not trust their universities. As an educational institution that helps students cultivate their qualifications for social development, the universities must try to provide students with the best lectures and welfare rather than pursuing private profits. Also, they must listen to the students’ voices and become schools that are respected by their students.
Lastly, the Dongguk Post asked various students about the types of universities they want.
“I hope the school will communicate smoothly based on respect for students. I think it is important to try to provide education with high quality that matches the amount of tuition we paid. If the school does not listen to the students and communicate continuously, students could feel frustrated.”
sophomore of Yonsei University
“I hope the school will gather students’ opinions and take immediate action when they speak out. Through this COVID-19 incident, I felt that our school was too slow to announce countermeasures compared to other schools, and even the proposed measures did not seem to consider students. Also, in the case of extra semesters, I want the school to allow students to pay tuition in proportion to students’ credits.”
– Lee Da-bin,
sophomore of Dongguk University
“Currently, students’ rights to use school facilities and receive lectures of good quality through active communication with professors have been violated due to COVID-19 and online lectures. Even if the claim that the financial situation of the university is true, I hope that the school will return a certain percentage of tuition to every student regardless of their income levels.”
– Lee So-young,
freshman of Ewha University
Lee Su-yeon, Kang Da-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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