of a coalition of civil organizations opposing tuition increases
present a skit depicting the burden of increasing college tuition on
students and their parents, at Yonsei University in Seoul, last
Thursday. / Yonhap
By Kim Sue-young
With the beginning of the new semester, universities became crowded
with freshmen looking forward to a lively campus life. Their
expectations were cut short, however, due to high tuition.
Jung Chan-yang, 19, who enrolled at Aju University in Suwon, Gyeonggi
Province, felt guilty about her parents paying about 4.9 million won
``All I can say is that it is `expensive.' My goal was to get into the
chemistry department and then apply for the graduate school of
medicine. But this is too much of an obstacle,'' she said.
For the last 10 years, the annual tuition for private universities has
increased by 70 percent on average. Now they charge about 10 million
won annually on average.
Compared to schools in the United States or Britain, the amount that
universities here charge may be inexpensive. But students in South
Korea complain that schools here offer lower-quality programs.
They pointed out no universities here are listed on the world's top 100 schools list.
More complaints are arising that university graduation no longer guarantees employment.
``We can't say that tuition is `cheap' here by just comparing it to the
$20,000 to 30,000 that U.S. universities charge. The per capita income
there is much higher than Korea,'' Jung said.
Some universities claim that a tuition hike is unavoidable due to
inflation and the financial stability needed to manage schools.
This year, Chungnam National University in Daejeon increased school
fees by 37 percent and Chonbuk National University in Jeonju, North
Jeolla Province, by 27.8 percent.
Prominent universities in Seoul also raised tuition by about 6-10 percent.
Many students and parents, however, disapproved of the rises in tuition costs.
They said the rate is ``murderous'' compared to the inflation rate of 2-3 percent.
According to Rep. Choi Soon-young of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP),
the inflation rate was 4.1 percent in 2001 and the tuition increase of
state-funded universities reached 5.9 percent.
The difference between the two figures has since widened. Tuition costs rose 9.4 percent despite 3.6 percent inflation in 2004.
Last year, the gap was 7.7 percent as universities increased school fees by 10.2 percent.
People also criticize universities' excuses for tuition hikes, given enormous balances left in schools' accounts.
According to the civic group People's Solidarity for Participatory
Democracy, 59 universities in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province accumulated a
total of 628.4 billion won (approximately $656.3 million) in 2006.
The report noted universities tend to overestimate tuition and then pile up surplus funds.
Universities have raised school fees claiming it as their only source of revenue to maintain facilities and hire professors.
Amid the few signs of economic revival, increased tuition heavily
weighs on parents and results in self-supporting students quit school
or take leave of absence.
According to a survey jointly conducted by student unions at the
University of Incheon and Inha University, 85 percent of 912
respondents said they are considering taking leave of absence or
already have taken them due to financial difficulties.
Protest Against Tuition Hike
Raging students and civic groups nationwide protest universities increasing tuition at such high rates.
A students' association has staged rallies since Jan. 5, urging the government and universities to cut school fees.
Parents and citizens also created a joint group last month to help students and demonstrate against price hikes.
Political circles, which have neglected the problem or merely spat
condemnation, began to roll up their sleeves to ease parents' financial
DLP lawmaker Choi suggested creating a price ceiling of one-semester tuition at 1.5 million won.
``For the middle class, the current tuition level is too high to deal
with. Annual tuition reaching 10 million won labels most students as
credit delinquents once they graduate from university.
``The price ceiling is to limit tuition based on the average of
three-year income. As of 2007, the average income is estimated at 3.7
million won,'' Choi said.
She submitted the proposal one year ago but it's still pending at the National Assembly.
The main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) also presented a similar idea to help solve the money problem.
Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu said, ``Now is the time that the government
should deal with the tuition issue. It should start delayed payment and
price ceiling systems as soon as possible.''
UDP Spokesman Choi Jae-sung urged the governing Grand National Party to
cooperate in deliberating and approving a proposal on tuition that Rep.
Chung Bong-ju submitted in September 2006.
He suggested banning universities from raising tuition 1.5 times higher
than the average inflation over the last three years and mandate
universities to report to the education ministry for exceptions.
The ministry is considering adopting easy loan systems for students.
Under the system, borrowers can gradually pay back in accordance with
their salary after they get a job.
University in foreign countries is expensive but offers various ways to
lighten financial burden, such as interest-free loans and tax
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced last Friday
that it would cover all tuition for families earning less than $75,000,
which benefited about 30 percent of MIT students.