Private universities hint at tuition cuts, urging subsidies
Published : Jun 12, 2011 - 19:22
Updated : Jun 12, 2011 - 19:22
Private universities are discussing cutting tuition fees by 10 to 15 percent on condition that the government shares the financing of scholarships at individual schools, the head of a private university presidents’ council said Sunday.

Park Chul, head of the Association of Private University Presidents, said in an interview that the group is gathering opinions of member schools about a trade-off between schools and the government.

“Under the education law, private universities are required to offer 10 percent of their tuition income as scholarship, with some schools spending 15 percent. Some schools voiced opinions that if the government supports their scholarship programs, they can bear as much as the amount,” said Park, who is also the president of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

As soon as they finish gathering opinions, Park said, the group plans to deliver their message to the ruling Grand National Party on Monday or Tuesday.

Park, emphasizing tuition reduction in phases, said all members of the council think it would impossible to halve tuition fees as envisioned by the GNP without government subsidies.

“It’s true that schools have to make more efforts. But we believe the government should first broaden financial support to private universities,” he said.

The Korean government spends just 0.6 percent of GDP on higher education, less than the OECD average of 1 to 1.2 percent, he added.

The renewed move by private universities came as they felt growing pressure from students, civic groups and political parties recently, criticizing the schools for accumulating cash reserves through tuition hikes rather than spending to benefit the students.

On Friday, the Board of Audit and Inspection also warned of a large-scale audit on the nation’s all public and private universities starting from August. A preliminary examination to prepare for the full-scale inspection is planned to begin in July.

Moreover, a maximum 15 percent reduction in tuition did not seem enough to appease college students and their struggling parents who have long complained about the nation’s notoriously expensive tuition fees.

Last year, the average annual university tuition fee reached 7.5 million won ($6,918) for private schools and 5 million won for public schools.

In the United States, where public universities make up almost 70 percent of schools, the fee for a state university is $5,943 on average. In Korea, most of the schools (87 percent) are privately owned.

In a bid to urge the government to come up with measures to relieve the tuition burden, especially the half-tuition policy ― a key campaign pledge of President Lee Myung-bak ― a massive candlelit vigil took place on Friday in central Seoul.

The GNP had proposed a new plan last month to halve tuition fees targeting the students in the bottom 50 percent of the income bracket. The benefits become unavailable, though, if students fail to get an average grade point of B or higher in the previous semester, the party said.

Criticizing the GNP plan as lip service ahead of next year’s presidential election, students and civic groups have urged that at least 6 trillion won be earmarked to cover 80 percent of the nation’s 4.4 million college students.

“We have confirmed through Friday’s gathering the desire of students and citizens for tuition cuts. We will continue the candlelit vigil by the end of the month,” said a member of the Korean University Students’ Association, one of the organizing groups of the tuition rally.

On Friday, the police took 72 protesters to the police station as they staged a rally near Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential residence, without permission.

By Lee Ji-yoon (