"Consumer Cooperative" is a widely used term in Korea; but for Korea University (KU) students, this word means nothing more than pie in the sky. Consumer cooperative is a free enterprise that is oriented toward service for students by using the margin of products sold in school for students. Such policy was first initiated in Sogang University from 1988 and has rapidly spread since then. Currently, 13 private universities and 18 national universities implemented this policy and the question we have now is whether or not this can be applied to KU.
▲ The logo of KUCF. Provided by KUCF.
KU Cooperative Federation (KUCF), the representing non-governmental organization (NGO) for every cooperative federation in universities defined itself as the utmost policy that would support students with its goals of cooperation, epigyny and welfare. By buying products in large amounts and selling them without taking middle margins and using the money for the welfare of students, this federation is widely praised in universities in Korea.
In order for consumer cooperative to be properly implemented in universities, there are several steps that the school and the organization need to take. This first course of action starts from counseling. This cooperation has to be in consensus with the students, professors, and the staff members of each school and comparing the effects of other universities. "Consumer cooperative for schools really start from recognition of students about the possibility of change and the willingness to do something about the difficulties," said Lee Mi Ok, the representative of KUCF.
Although the first process is the longest and the hardest step to take, after the consensus takes place, the ensuing step is to make an arrangement committee of over ten people who would lead the school into accepting this new policy. Lee continued, "In many cases, the committee is constituted from the members of the student body who would be able to accelerate the process."
▲ Lee Mi Ok, the representative of KUCF. Photographed by Kang Hyun Ji.
In Yonsei University (YU), consumer cooperative was first built in 1994, boasting around 20 years of strong foundation. Its main service includes purchasing items that are needed in schools as a group to provide them in lower prices and provide opportunities such as working for the environmental protection and education for healthy purchase.
YU consumer cooperative uses its surplus mostly for the benefits of the students. The first and important usage of its excess is to build deficient welfare centers such as student and staff lounge. The second usage goes to the scholarship fund which has given around 391 million won since its commence.
For Seoul National University (SNU), consumer cooperative works in order to resolve the economic and social problems among the faculties, staff, and students that work not only in stationery stores but also in restaurants, canteens, and souvenir shops. In order to effectively run this cooperative, SNU holds an annual meeting to discuss the usage of surplus settlement of accounts and major business plans.
Perks of Consumer Cooperative
"Scholarship can be given from cooperations but the difference that can be felt for students come from small things such as the location of a trash can," said Lee. Assaid, the biggest benefits of having consumer cooperative in schools is that the dissatisfactions that students have as the owners of the school can be turned into change and development. No longer do the students have to live with the inconvenience but actually become the ones who could make the school a better place.
Students are the owners of their school. Tuitions are collected to give the students the rights to fully learn and enjoy the benefits that the school offers. By recognizing this, consumer cooperative allows the students to become the organizers and active members of the school instead of passively receiving the benefits that the school provides.
Ewha Women’s University (EWU) is a prime example of the initiation of consumer cooperative with most of its shops and coffee stores working as a part of the KUCF. "I know that the quality of the food we get from the KUCF is much better. We get student benefits and bargains and can also ask the KUCF for changes in inconvenience in school and witness it," said Choi Yoon Shin (22, Seoul), a student from EWU.
The second benefit that the consumer cooperative offers is the lower price system through group purchase. When a school becomes a part of KUCF, it is joining a group of universities who are able to buy products at a cheaper price. "When students from one school wants a certain product, it is most likely that other students from other universities would want it as well. By having meetings with the other universities, KUCF can purchase products much cheaply and use the margin as benefits for the students," said Lee.
Not only that, the KUCF creates opportunities for students to take part in diverse programs such as volunteer service for the elderly, holding flee markets, and supporting students in bus trips during national holidays. As college students, such manifold opportunity allows them to experience the roles they take in the society.
Need for Improvement
Consumer cooperative definitely has its benefits in providing financial benefits for the students as well as the professors and the staffs of the school. However, this does not mean it lacks room for improvement. Even with it 30 years of long history, consumer cooperative has several sectors to be improved on.
For instance, the lack of variety in school’s supply is one of the biggest complaints of students. "I am grateful that consumer cooperative has settled in our school but I hope it would get more of a Yonsei-item that would differentiate it from other universities," said Moon Jae Young (21, Gangnam), a student from YU.
In addition, there is a rise in voice that consumer cooperative should benefit a wider range of people through its surplus. Most of the consumer cooperatives benefits students of that school and some schools are starting to use this federation to help those outside the school through its volunteer programs.
The main problem that KU faces in implementing this policy is the lack of recognition from the student body and faculty. "I went to a conference regarding the consumer cooperative in KU early this year and what disappointed me the most was the lack of unity among the staff and professors," said Lee. Consumer cooperative is something that cannot be ignited or continued without the unceasing interest from the school body.
Additionally, the overflowing amounts of enterprises within the school makes it harder for the KUCF to take its place. In KU’s buildings, most of the coffee shops are either individual enterprises or large conglomerates that operate for profit. Those shops officially gained legal lease with the school’s consent. Once the school recognizes that it should work for the benefit of the students and think less about its profit, that is when the consumer cooperative can actively be engaged in campus.
School is not an enterprise. Are we, as KU students, interested in how the money is being used or gained by givng lease for conglomerates to come in our school? The coffee we drink and the stores we go into do not consider much about the welfare of students because they are businesses that put making profit as its main goal. Whether it is the consumer cooperative or other student-friendly organizations, it is for us the students, to recognize the problem first in order for change to happen.
▲ Kakaotalk consumer cooperative poster in Hankuk Foreign University. Provided by univcoop.or.kr