The educational rights movement is one of the largest annual campaign projects led by the Korea University Student Union (KUSU). The goal of the drive is to encourage the active participation of every member of KU, thereby leading towards a change in the learning environment. The student union of every department and independent college has been asked to provide their support, and their alliance is expected to generate a significant synergy effect. The students of KU have continuously sought to protect their right to a quality education. With a new student union, this year’s rally to fight for educational rights has led people to wonder what the consequences will be.
KUSU has taken a leading role in seeking improvement of the educational environment. Last year, the 50th KUSU raised awareness about the use of the direct presidential election system. As a result, it succeeded in reaching an agreement with the Faculty Senate, alumni association, and corporate body of KU to hold a steering committee to discuss the matter. The election system is still under revision, but the influence of the educational rights movement was significant. The focus of the rally differs every year, and this year it includes three objectives: to increase the number of courses, to remove the Chinese character test from the requirements for graduation, and to improve laboratory facilities.
A New Approach
The Higher Education Act has been the most controversial recent issue in the field of education. It was designed to improve the poor working conditions of part-time lecturers but has led to negative results where universities are trying to reduce the number of courses in order to save on wages. Because universities need to pay their lecturers during the summer and winter breaks due to the change, these educational institutes have made moves ahead of the implementation of the Act to cut its number of part-time lecturers, and KU has not been an exception. According to data provided by KUSU, 74 major courses and 161 general studies courses have been eliminated this semester.
Consequently, KUSU requested the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) to take responsibility for the reduced number of lectures through a petition, relay picketing, and press conferences. As a response, the OAA replied that it had sent an official notice to each independent college and department asking for an increase in the number of courses before the course registration change period. However, this had no practical effect; therefore, KUSU felt the need for a change in the way to resolve the problem. In order to ensure twoway communication, it emphasized the need for the support of student unions from each college and department, introducing a task force (TF) system.
The TF system involves a temporary association of individuals to accomplish a specific objective: in this case, improving the educational environment on campus. In fact, every TF consists of only one person selected from the different student unions. KUSU stated that this was to organize meetings in an efficient way. After the meeting with TFs of three agendas, each representative relayed what had been discussed to their unit. As mentioned before, KUSU has been searching for an effective way to encourage strong participation in the preparation process for the educational rights movement. At last, it seems to have found a way to connect KU students with the strategies designed to implement a better educational system.
Problems Yet to Be Solved
There are specific requirements that vary for each department for students to fulfill before they can graduate. As one of the requirements, students have to take a Chinese character test run by the Korea Test Association (KTA) or KU. The Chinese certification test was added to the requirements for graduation in 2004 and 23 departments still maintain this qualification. In fact, KU is the only university in Korea that retains this requirement. According to a survey conducted to investigate students’ satisfaction with the requirement, 74 percent responded that they only took the test in order to fulfill the requirement. This shows how obsolete the system is, especially when English education has greater importance within the educational community in Korea.
Furthermore, the current laboratory environment in KU is extremely poor. Taking an experiment class is mandatory for many students in science and engineering departments. However, there is insufficient experimental equipment and some damaged equipment is never replaced. Moreover, it is said that there are cases where teaching assistants do not fully understand how to use the instruments. KUSU also reported that most of the equipment is used for more than 10 years, which means it needs replacing. This poor experimental environment has not been improved for several years. Even though the lack of infrastructure is serious in terms of the safety of the students, KU has not come up with appropriate solutions.
These problems seem difficult to solve; however, KUSU has followed its plan and achieved some measure of success. After recruiting members for the rally, it successfully pushed the objectives forward by constantly upda ting the progre ss of the educational rights movement on its official Facebook page. KUSU is looking forward to a conference with President Chung Jin Taek once the 2019 rally has ended in late April. The movement is regarded as an important means of communication with President Chung, who may hold the key to big changes in KU’s education system.
Nothing changes unless students keep raising questions. The fundamental system of education on campus is an important subject, thus students have to continue working toward peacefully resolving educational issues. It is indeed difficult to achieve abrupt change, but collective action increases the possibility. KUSU is not a replacement for the students. When KUSU moves on its own, not much change can be expected. It is important to make sure that students understand their educational rights and ensure that the school treats every student fairly. The long tradition of fighting to protect students’ rights should persist and the 2019 Rally is not the finish line. Continuous monitoring of KU’s educational environment is needed.