"Lee Myung-bak’s government must keep its promise to cut university tuition fees into half!” On April 10th 2009, about one hundred students gathered in front of Cheongun-dong office, Jongno - gu, Seoul. They held a press conference under the banner- “The government promise to the public that they will cut the tuition fees into half.” A ceremony to protest the government by making one’s hair shaved was followed in which the chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of each general student’s council (GSC) took part. In a moving scene, some women allowed their hair to be cut. They burst into tears and everyone could feel their passion. When the performance was almost over, the police gave a warning and ordered everyone to disperse. Subsequently, 49participants were taken to the police station. So why are so many students, at the risk of arrest and personal safety, campaigning for a 50% reduction in tuition fees?
March 9th 2007 Kim Hyung-oh, a representative in the national assembly went on record to say :
July 21th 2007 Lee Ju-ho, 5th chairman of policy in Han-nara dang (Grand National Party) declared :
October 10th 2007 President Lee Myung-bak established a halving-tuition fees committee that would work under the auspices of a special committee on economic revival.
Afterwards, the government announced that there would be some huge increases in spending, from 467.3 billion in 2008 to 845.6 billion in 2009, agreeing also on education fund amounting to 77.2 billion. They also proposed to lower the interest rate of the education fund from 1.5% to 1%.
On September 9th 2008, however, President Lee said : “I never did publically pledge the halving of tuition fees.” And the Minister of Science and Technology said “We would do our best to halve the psychological burden of tuition fees.”
This remark enraged both students and parents, who were all hoping for a lowering of tuition fees. Even though circumstances have improved due to the recent freezing of tuition fees, the cost is still too high. In an economically poor period, a fee of over ten million won every year is a deathblow to ordinary students.
“My friends are thinking about temporarily absenting themselves from school next semester,” a freshman of Soongsil University said on condition of anonymity. Moreover, Song Sang-hun, a Chungang University senior majoring in Film Studies said : “I am now a senior but my parents have been handicapped by high tuition fees. They have to prepare for retirement and superannuation; they have neither the time nor money to pay off my tuition fees. It makes me sad.”
As a reaction to this, university students from around Korea came together to participate in students’ rally held on May 1st and 2nd. The event was organized by the Korean University Students’ Union (KUSU), whose slogan “3OUT 2MB” was quickly adopted by everyone.
At 2pm on May 1st, about 30 Dongguk University students gathered in Paljeongdo. Soon after, they left for Yeo uido park assembly area, shouting “The government must cut tuition fees in low!”
In Yeouido park, university students from Seoul area, Chungcheong-do, Jeolla-do and Gyeongsang-do gathered together. The nation’s students clearly want the government to publically pledge a 50% reduction in tuition fees.
The next morning, May 2nd, students left Soongsil University and moved to Boramae park, located in Sindaebangdong, Dongjak-gu, Seoul. Part of the park was occupied with university students.
Around 1p.m. KUSU put its representatives on the rostrum to read out their petitions. Lee Won-gi, the chairman of Korean University Students’ Union said : “We have requested the government to reaffirm its promise to halve tuition fees. But far from acceding to this request, they look almost indifferent. It’s time to show the nation how angry the student feeling is.”
In the morning it has a little rain, but in the afternoon it rained heavily. Regardless of these bad conditions, students wore waterproofs, held banners and listened attentively to the speeches. One student said : “Although it rained cats and dogs, we were not cowered. We students just carried on protesting.” This reporter was able to see their eyes rimming over with strong resolution.
Afterwards, everyone moved to Jamsil station by subway, and then rushed on to the main road together. Passersbyes stopped to watch the students rushing like fierce waves. Several showed interest after reading the handed-out leaflets.
Students began to block the Jamsil crossroads (located by the Lotte Department Store entrance), exclaiming: “Lower tuition fees now! Let’s judge Lee Myung-bak’s government!” and so on. However, when the police arrived, each student had to make quickly his/her getaway. I asked persons concerned with KUSU about the next destination. “I’m not sure,” was the answer. Students then got off the subway at Ewha Women’s University.
This time, the students who arrived at Sinchon five-way crossing didn’t block the road but gathered instead in one corner. Finally, Lee Won-gi, the chairman of KUSU’s organization team, broke the gathering by promising a meeting in the near future. I could see everyone was very tired. They stayed for one whole night for their protest, enduring both wind and rain. But throughout all of this, everyone remained decisive and resolute.
“The meaning of this movement is the bringing together of students from all around the country. KUSU wants students to understand that this is not just a tuition fee problem. It also represents a failure in governmental financial policy,” Lee Won-gi, the chairman of KUSU said. He added that the government’s pledge to halve tuition fees must be kept in order to ameliorate the financial pain felt by students.
Of course, I doubt that the government will come up with a satisfying solution. But one thing I am sure is that our students have accomplished their goal. They didn’t resort to violence, but showed their power through solidarity. From now on, I expect this kind of movement will rise again whenever there is a need to protect students’ rights and fight injustice.
By Choi Deok, Cub Reporter
Choi Deok, Cub Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
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