On March 11th, a Korea University student committed suicide. The reason for this tragedy was due to high tuition fees. Although he enrolled in what is called a “prestige school”, the tuition fees were too high for him. Crushed by the ricochets coming from the global financial crisis, Korea now is situated on economic recession. As a consequence, university students in Korea have difficulty paying their tuition fees. According to a newspaper survey on university students, 52.8 percents of students said that they intended to take a leave of absence due to high tuition fees. Mindful of this situation, DongGuk University (DGU) decided to freeze tuition fees on January 10th, 2009. But he monstrations related with tuition fees are still on-going. Why are they still happening? How can we solve a problem that stubbornly refuses to go away?
DGU Decides to Freeze the Tuition
In November 2008, Korea, Hanyang, and Ewha Womans Universities began to freeze their tuition and fees. Affected
by this policy, students in other universities demonstrated for tuition cuts. For example at DGU “the general student council (GSC) had sent official documents to the president of DGU five or six times to negotiate the tuitions. Aside from this, we talked over the tuition fee issues with the vicepresident,” said Shin Dong-uk, chairperson of GSC. He added: “We hung large-lettered posters in several places around the campus and posted several written protests on the bulletin board of DGU’s webpage.” The tuition feefreezing movement spread to other universities and then the government also persuaded the school authorities to freeze tuition fees. The government officially announced that there would be lower financial support for any university which raised tuition fees in 2009. At last, DGU held a public meeting for the announcement of a tuition fee freeze on January 10th.
Frozen Tuition Fee: Is it affordable?
There are still some remaining problems regarding the tuition freeze. “About 84% of the universities in Korea froze their tuitions in 2009. But will this relieve the students of the financial oppression? The answer is ‘No’,” said Lee Won-ki, the chairman of the General Korean University Student Association (GKUSA). He added that “in spite of the freeze, the tuitions are still high - approximately 10,000,000 won for private universities and 6,000,000 won for public universities a year. So the tuition freeze can only partially satisfy the students.” The survey done by the above entioned newspaper reflects this situation clearly.
The 45.5 percents of students answered that they intended to take a leave of absence due to high tuition fees while the 52.8 percents of students said that they would not change their mind even if the tuitions were frozen. As shown by the chart above, the tuition fees for private universities have risen for the past ten years. So tuition fees are already too high for students to afford them.
Tuition Fee Freezing: Is This too Much for DGU?
“Proficiency in English is necessary for students to get a better job. So DGU has invested a large percentage of its budget into courses in English,” the leader of the Planning & Budgeting Team (PBT) said. The newly appointed professors for 2009 consist of 22 foreign professors and 14 native ones. “To employ senior professors with high degrees and experience in teaching means that the labor costs will be high. It costs about 200 to 300 million won a year.” The frozen tuition fees make the school budget devastating because the salary class for established professors rises yearly. He explained the reasons why lowering the tuition fees is so difficult for DGU. He added, “I understand why students are dissatisfied but to enroll in DGU is their own choice. It means that they have a duty to pay their tuition fees.”
The Movement for Lowering Tuition Fees
GKUSA’s opinion runs contrary to PBT’s. “The idea that students should pay high tuition fees because they are
receiving a good quality of education from qualified lecturers is not applicable,” said Lee Won-ki, chairman of
GKUSA. He added that: “the students will contribute to the economic growth of Korea after graduating from university. So the nation has a responsibility to educate them.” He asserted strongly that the tuition fees must be reduced. By the second half of 2008, the GKUSA marched 1000km so as to arouse public opinion on the tuition fee issue. “In March,” Lee said, “we are going to petition the government to add 5000 billion won to a revised supplementary budget. We hope to have 100,000 people supporting this petition.”
The Way to Solve the Problem
When the chairman of the General Korea University Student Association (GKUSA), the general student council
(GSC) and the leader of Planning & Budgeting Team (PBT) were asked about how to solve the problem, they said that
there must be efficient distribution and appropriation of the university budget. “The difference,” said Lee Won-ki, chairman of GKUSA, “between the initial estimated budget and the final closing accounts should be minimized. Furthermore, a lot of budget should be allotted to lowering the tuition fees. In order to carry this out, we should try to increase private and public contributions,” the leader of PBT added.
The government should make an effort to solve this problem.
“The government should give financial support to educational institutions and impose legal controls on universities which raise tuition fees,” said Lee. The three interviewees are also of the same opinion about the role the government should play in solving the problem. Shin Dong-uk, the chairman of GSC said that the interest rates on the student loan are too high; the government should make a bill which lowers that too.
Students should closely watch government and university policy on tuition fees. They shouldn’t do this on individual levels but by forming a union. The tuition fee freeze is the first step to solve the problem. The government, the universities and their respective student bodies should continue working together to help alleviate the problem.
Song Ji-won firstname.lastname@example.org
<저작권자 © 동국포스트, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>