A university diploma is usually necessary for students to get a good job in Korea. However, many students are forced to go into debt in order to finance their educations. Students in Seoul recently demonstrated to have tuition costs cut in half. YU students took part in candle light demonstrations that began on June 10th and continued on throughout the month of June for the same purpose. YU was the only university in Daegu and the Gyeongbuk region to increase tuition (2.8%) in the first semester of 2011. In spite of this, there has been an alarming lack of interest on the part of YU students regarding this issue. YNO hopes to clarify the different positions regarding this issue. We also met students who are fighting to make half price tuition a reality.
Myung-Bak Lee’s pledge on tuition
Cutting tuition costs in half was one of the key campaign promises made by President Myung-Bak Lee during the campaign of 2007. However, he did not follow through on this pledge, and instead created a deferred payment system. On June 23rd, 2011, the Grand National Party-Hannara, came up with a solution to ease the tuition burden. They contended that if the government financed about 1.5 trillion won and universities expanded scholarships to about 500 billion won by 2012, overall tuition rates would be reduced by about 15%.
They also asserted that the government would provide an additional 2.3 trillion won in 2013 and 3 trillion won in 2014, which would allow universities to cut tuition by 24% and 30% respectively in those years. However, this solution has not yet been approved by the current government. On July 1st, 2011, the University Restructuring Committee was created to urge poor private universities to be consolidated or liquidated.
Actual condition of Korean universities
As of June 20th, 2011, the annual average tuition level of public universities in Korea was about 4.4 million won, and about 7.76 million won per year in private universities. This is third among OECD countries. The average Korean household income in the first quarter of 2011 was reported at about 3.86 million won per month for a total of 46.34 million won annually. Private university tuition for one year would account for 16.6% of the average annual income based on these figures.
Over dependence on tuition for management costs
Tuition fees account for more than 60% of the operating budgets at most of the top 20 universities in Korea. Tuition fees account for 84.2% of the operating budget at Hansung University, 82.1% at Kwangwoon University, 75% at Sogang University, 74.6% at Kookmin University, and 74.5% at Kyunghee University respectively.
Tuition is burdensome to students
Many young people are saddled with debt from tuition costs. As a result hundreds of thousands of students work part-time jobs or take leaves of absence from school because they are unable to pay for their tuition. There are also about 3,000 students at YU who receive loans.
Factors preventing tuition reduction
The first reason why tuition reduction is difficult to achieve is due to shortfalls in government support. In 2011, federal and local government support totaled 7 trillion won. This accounts for only 1.7% of the overall government budget. The second reason is that many universities accumulate funds. The reserve funds of private universities currently amount to 7 trillion won and that total is increasing annually. Private university revenues are composed of funds received for research, construction, scholarships, and retirement accounts. However, the universities do not fully disclose revenue details and there is suspicion regarding how these funds are used. This has caused the government to enact a bill that limits the accumulation of revenues into savings and encourages it to disburse more funds in the form of scholarships and research projects. The third reason is an increase in salaries. Faculty and staff labor costs currently account for 53.4% of total expenditures. The average salary for tenured professors was 108.8 million won in 2010, which was an increase of 15.8% from 2007.
Student demonstrations in Seoul
On May 29th, 2011, at Maronie Park, students gathered and demonstrated for the promised 50% tuition reduction. On the same day another group of students rallied at Gwang-Hwa-Moon Square in Seoul and tried to march to Cheong-Wa-Dae Square. Police restrained them and detained 73 students. Subsequently, students conducted a sit-in to secure the release of those 73 students. On June 7th, 2011 another demonstration took place at Cheonggye Plaza, Seoul. On June 10th, 2011, there was a large demonstration commemorating the pro-democratic resistance movement of June 10th, 1987. Even though it was during the final exam period, nearly 20,000 students spontaneously participated in a candlelight demonstration. On June 17th, 2011 3,000 citizens gathered at Cheonggye Plaza in a pan-national candlelight cultural festival. On June 24th, 2011 1,000 students held “The Round Table Meeting” at Cheonggye Plaza regarding the issues of half price tuition despite heavy monsoon rains. On July 9th, 2011 500 people again gathered at Cheonggye Plaza and held another candlelight rally. At this rally, students, parents, and civic groups decided to organize a Citizen’s Network to fight for half price tuition.
Possible solutions for universities in Seoul
Universities in Seoul are considering policies to ease the burden of tuition based on family income levels. Seoul National University decided to give full tuition exemptions to students whose families fell into the lower half of the income bracket. Yonsei University decided to expand scholarships by 40% for low-income students. Hongik University decided to institute a 50% tuition reduction for over 2,200 low-income students and to give full tuition exemptions to 100 of its poorest students. Several other universities in Seoul are also laying out plans to cut tuition for low-income students. When considering the tuition of all private universities outside of Seoul, YU’s College of Liberal Arts ranked 9th overall. The tuition for this college is 6.06 million won a year. The Natural Science and Engineering Colleges are both ranked 3rd with tuition rates of 8.38 million won, and 8.47 million won respectively. The College of Medicine and the College of Fine Arts were both ranked 1st at 11.08 million won, 9.14 million won a year respectively.
YU tuition management
This is the 2011 YU main budget standard, which has increased by 5.1% compared to last year. The two largest sources of revenue in YU’s 2011 main budget are tuition and transferred money/contributions. Total tuition for this school year is roughly 201 billion won. As previously stated, this accounts for 67.6% of the total operating budget. Transferred money and contributions total about 42.7 billion won, which accounts for 13.8% of total budget. There are four major areas of expenditure. The biggest budget expenditure is wages for teaching staff and administrative personnel, which totals 127 billion won or 40.9% of the total budget. The next largest expenditure is for research, scholarships and student events at 88.4 billion won or 28.5%. The rest of the budget is spent on management; 32.8 billion won (10.6%) and 34.5 billion won (11.1%) for buying fixed assets such as buildings and facilities. YU has reserve funds totaling about 131.8 billion won. 12.9 billion won of that total was accumulated in 2011. This money is earmarked for different projects and programs such as: research (10.7 billion won), construction (16.8 billion won), scholarships (30 billion won) and miscellaneous other expenses (74.3 billion won). This miscellaneous category is the most problematic. The reason for this is that since these funds are not reserved for a specific purpose, we have no idea where that money is going to be spent. Without a specific purpose for these funds transparency regarding the majority of these funds is difficult, and the possibility for its misuse increases. According to the most recent publication expenditures from the reserve fund are as follows.
Increasing Electricity (2010~2011, 8.5 billion won)
Extending the College of Engineering (3.27 billion won)
Extending the College of Business and Economics (3.6 billion won)
Supplementing other budgets (2.5 billion won)
YU does not publish its final budget projections until after the funds have been distributed. This makes it difficult for students to question about allocations of budget.
Tuition Discussion Council
One of the final avenues for students to question tuition allocations is through the “Tuition Discussion Council.”The council is made up of seven members; three students, three university representatives, and one impartial expert. This year the council met seven times.
The president and students discussed the same issues that were covered at the sixth Tuition Discussion Council. However a conclusion was delayed again. Then the president announced the budget which included an increase in tuition of 2.8%.
Interview with Jung-Keun Yoo, the Deputy General Manager of the University Budget Team at YU.
Q) How is tuition usually allocated?
A) Generally, our revenue from tuition is used for management, research and scholarships, and other payments are not directly related to education.
Q) Why doesn't YU increase scholarships or decrease tuition like universities around the Seoul area?
A) The universities have established solutions based on support funds. However, the amount of support funds has not been decided yet. If the government decides on a policy, YU would prepare to decrease tuition.
Q) If the policy remains unresolved, does that mean YU is unable to improve scholarships without support from the government?
A) There are two concerns. First, if scholarships are increased, student will set a new basic standard based on the revised budget, and then ask for increased scholarships again. Therefore, scholarships usually have fixed rates. Secondly, students who received scholarships last year may argue about the changed scholarship standards.
Q) What is YU’s position on the half tuition policy?
A) That is impossible in reality. If they ask little decreasing of tuition, that may be possible. However the university can not operate on half tuition without any support. For example, if there is no change to expenditures and revenues are cut in half at a company, the company would not be able to stay in business. We are in the same position.
Q) Are there currently any plans for tuition next year?
A) Next year tuition may be frozen due to public pressure.
Assembly of YU students
On June 10th, 2011, the Daegu-Gyeongbuk universities student union arranged their first assembly. 60 to 70 university students gathered in front of the February 28 Jungang Memorial Park to protest against high tuition. YU’s student government supported this effort by providing buses and meals for the participants. On June 17th, 2011 the student government of YU arranged an assembly. Roughly half of the 400 participants were YU students. On June 24th, 2011 the student government of Daegu National University of Education arranged an assembly.
Interview with Tae-Woo Kim, the 44th student body president in YU
Q) What is the student government doing to make the 50% tuition reduction a reality?
A) We are speaking out for transparency in accounting at private universities, and for students to be included in the overall financial planning and operation of the university. We firmly believe that if all funds are accounted for the 50% tuition reduction would be possible.
Q) Have you made a formal request to YU?
A) I asked for the reopening of the Tuition Discussion Council, but we have not received a response. The student government has taken the issue to the media. I spoke about the increase of 2.8% during the broadcast and emphasized that only YU has increased tuition out of all the universities in the Daegu-Gyeongbuk area. I thought it was the best solution to take our concerns to to the media and force the university to act.
Q) Can the student government increase student participation in rallies?
A) We are trying to promote rallies through the university community and on Twitter. However, most students are reluctant to get involved and leave it to the student government. It is a bit embarrassing that there has been more interest and support from the older generation than from our students. At one of the rallies there were nearly 40 participants who were old enough to be our parents, and they gather every week to protest for the tuition reduction.
Interview with Sang-Lyeol Keum, a YU student who started a one-man demonstration at the YU Central Library from April 29th.
Q) How did you start your one-man demonstration?
A) After I went back to school, I was upset when I saw the tuition increase plans. I felt that somebody needed to say something, so I started my one-man demonstration to make people aware of the injustices that are taking place at YU.
Q) What did you feel during your one-man demonstration?
A) When I held the picket signs, there were many students who said “Fighting!” to me. Some students brought me some beverages, and others clapped for me. It made me feel good to hear their words of encouragement.
Q) What do you want from YU students?
A) I wish students would participate more. I wish students would have more interest in the tuition issue. I wish that more students would realize that the tuition problem is their problem and participate in demonstrations.
Q) Will you continue to demonstrate?
A) Whether it is another one-man demonstration or some other form, I will participate in activities where students speak their minds. As for now, I’m going to attend the candle cultural festival continuously. If we do not act, the university will contintue to ignore us. The university will act fairly if students maintain a critical eye and bring up the right questions.
Q) What demonstrations will you participate in?
A) During the YU spring festival, I prepared a board with photos and information about half price tuition. I will give it to the president. I also got messages from other students about their opinions on the half price tuition issue to deliver to the president. I also plan to distribute printed materials about the reserve funds of YU. I am going to start a signature campaign among the student body. I have also formed an organization named “Tuition Practicing Group.” When the next semester starts, I will go into action.
Q) How can we make half price tuition a reality?
A) Basically, students need to be more concerned. In addition, the opinions of the parents who send their children to university, civic groups, and all citizens need to be voiced. It is difficult to realize this goal because there are not enough people speaking out and demanding half price tuition. President Myung-Bak Lee promised half price tuition. If he makes a promise, he should keep it. We can realize half price tuition if we focus ourselves on accomplishing the task.
The debate over tuition is being made an issue by students who are taking their concerns into the street. However, many students still have not made themselves aware of the specifics of the half price tuition policy yet. In addition, most YU students do not know and do not seem to care how tuition is managed at our university. This apathy is shown in the lack of participation in assembly and demonstrations. Students must recognize that the tuition problem is one that we all share together and there needs to be active participation on the part of all students if these issues are going to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.