What a pleasant surprise it is for any student to get accepted to Korea University (KU). It would definitely be a pure moment of fulfillment to know that one’s hard work has finally paid off. Little would any admitted student know, at that moment, that they would soon be subject to bills that require them to pay a vast amount of money simply to be granted the privilege to study at the school. However, why should access to education require a bulk of money to begin with?
▲ PHOTO RETRIEVED FROM KUSA. Protest against admission fees
It all began a year ago, when students of KU, and those from all over South Korea, started to question the status quo. KU’s admission fees of 2016 reached 1,030,000 won, the highest among all private schools in the country. The national average for private schools wa s approximately 770,000, nonetheless an amount hard to neglect. Students wondered why they paid such a huge amount of admission fees upon entering their respective universities. Many of them demanded answers regarding how the money was utilized, yet did not receive answers. The lack of transparency exhibited by schools was what prompted many to file lawsuits against them to have their money returned. By October 2016, around 10,000 lawsuits had been filed against private universities, including KU.
“By essence, admission fees are money that should be collected to finance any cost incurred of admitting a student, but the information of how 1,000,000 won worth of money is used is unknown,” commented the president of the Korea University Student Association (KUSA) Lee Seung Jun (’11, Psychology). He further added that charging admission is an “unfair transaction that takes advantage of incoming students.”
Many old and new students feel the similar sentiments regarding this issue. For instance, Choi Kyung Lim (’17, Civil and Environmental Engineering) expressed that “it feels unfair having to pay to enter the school when you have already been told you have the talent and skill to be admitted.” As a matter of fact, it does seem unreasonable that the school charges such an exorbitant amount of fees to students who have already met certain criteria that makes them worthy of studying in KU.
In addition, for many students, the high admission fees may serve as a barrier that makes it difficult for a student to study in KU. “My dad, the sole breadwinner of a family of five, had to ask his brother to cover for the entrance fee as he had not expected it,” exclaims Choi. This is a problem that is faced by not only Korean students, but also international students of KU as well. According to Sahriah Ingratubun (’16, Department of Media and Communications), “Upon seeing the admissions fee, my dad was furious as to how KU could dare to charge that much for entering when the tuition fees were already so high.” She additionally mentioned that she “know[s] many students who finance all their expenses themselves and are, as a result, currently struggling to continue their studies in KU.”
Ever since the lawsuit trends emerged, it was only a matter of time that these students formed an alliance to formally organize a nationwide campaign against admission fees. Titled “Admission Fee Out; Why Did We Pay Admission Fees?—a Movement to Eliminate Admission Fees,” the campaign amassed large support from university students all over the country, totaling more than 20 active student councils of different schools. Korea University Student Association (KUSA) Eumjul, representing the students of KU, has been extremely active as well.
From 2016, KUSA has been heavily involved in arranging signature campaigns, filing lawsuits for the return of admission fees, and hosting many other campaign events. The result of all these hard efforts was the 3.5 percent decrease in KU’s admission fees from 2016 to 2017. However, KUSA, knowing this was not enough, further hosted another press conference in KU’s campus early September, 2016, along with Hanyang University, Hong Ik University, Ewha Woman’s University, and more. Ultimately, the voices of students seemed to be heard by the government when President Moon Jae-In, in the 19th presidential elections, placed this issue on his list of presidential election pledges.
After’s Moon’s inauguration, national and public universities have fortunately lived up to the expectations as they complied with his efforts to eliminate admission fees. Private universities, on the other hand, have reflected a different position regarding this issue. On October 13, the Korean Association of Private University Presidents (KPU) and the Ministry of Education (MoE) came together to discuss this issue. In the meeting, the MoE pointed out that state scholarships have been generously given to students up to this day, and that the government is willing to increase financial support, all in return for eliminating admission fees.
▲ PHOTO PROVIDED BY HUFFINGTON POST. KPU meeting with MoE
In response to the suggestions of the MoE, KPU announced their position on October 20, claiming that instantly eliminating admission fees would be difficult. Furthermore, it stated that the source of income for private universities should be expanded if the admission fees were to be abolished, implying that tuition fees should be increased by 1.5 percent. However, in a stunning development as of November 28, the coalition of student councils has finally achieved what seemed like a wishful thinking just days ago, marking a significant milestone in their journey toward justice. The opposing sides have agreed to ultimately abolish admission fees within four or five years. The plan is to incrementally phase out admission fees by reducing them by 20 to 25 percent each year, thereby putting an end to this predatory practice once and for all.
This remarkable victory of student societies is a source of reassurance for many that they can indeed make a difference by coming together and putting up a united front. These student leaders who spearheaded the movement for years without any promise of success deserve full credit for their perseverance and commitment to the welfare of student communities. Yet, it is too early to let our guards down since there still exists loopholes that the schools can exploit to make up for their staggering loss.