Every year colleges are full of students angry about high tuition fees. It is an annual event, at Korea University (KU) as well. Scholarships, even with the recent increases, cannot meet all a student’s needs. Especially for those who are studying science and engineering, it is hard for them to understand the amount of money they are paying.
For years, many people have taken in stride that science and engineering majors’ tuition fees are higher than the students studying areas in the liberal arts or humanities. It is commonly known that the main reason for the higher tuition is laboratory costs . In 2009 , as student representative of the science and engineering departments, Park Jae Gyun ('05, College of Science) shaved his hair in protest against tuition inequality. However, not much has changed since then.
When Did It All Start?
"The wide gap in tuition fee according to majors started after 1989, when the government of Roh Tae-woo seized power," said Professor Ban Sang Jin (Department of Education at Chonbuk National University). That is when the government gave autonomy to the universities.
However, with the greater autonomy, universities tried to raise tuition fees. The issue of production cost first arose during this time. As education itself is a service, it is actually hard to assess the objective production cost. Thus, the logic was that “Courses in the liberal arts, social studies, and business majors are usually lecture style and the courses in science and engineering had experiments so the production costs of these majors should be much higher.”
Professor Ban said, “In the past, it was thought as rational to raise the tuition for science and engineering majors. However, even after more than 20 years, no one can really answer why they pay that much more. Korea only searches for justifications to the tuition fees, instead of calculating the accurate cost price. This illogical estimation has been continued since then.”
Less Productive Than Intended
KU has, by comparing the number of professors and facilities of all majors, tried to make it clear that it is a matter of fairness for the tuition fees for science and engineering majors to be higher. However, President of KU Student Association (KUSA) Choi Jong Un ('11, Mechanical Engineering) doubts whether the difference is justifiable.
He said, “I would agree if the fee has been reasonable according to the services the school provides to the students. But more than a difference of 2,000,000 won is something we cannot easily accept. Even the school cannot give logical arguments why the gap has widened so much.”
In addition, it is true that some majors have no special reasons of having high tuition but for the fact that they are classified as science majors. For instance, Department of Mathematics students pay the same tuition as students in other departments such as Physics and Chemistry, only for the reason that they too are in the College of Science. However, the Department of Mathematics courses deal with thought experiments which do not require additional facilities.
A staff member of KU Development and External Affairs said, “The school invests the additional collected money to improve the overall educational environment for science and engineering majors. Thus, it is not viable to lower the tuition fee for those who are not taking experimental courses.”
However, considering the current state of the buildings and facilities on the KU science campus, many doubt whether such improvements are being made. Lee Hye Sun ('13, Biotechnology) said, “I’m satisfied with the content we deal with in class. But I think it is just absurd that we have a shortage of the most basic instruments for experiments, such as pipettes and miniature light bulbs. It would also be better if the classrooms were cleaner.”
▲ Lab in the Life Sciences & Biotechnology West Building Photographed by Kim Na Young
KU, Where To Go?
Increasing dissatisfaction regarding tuition and education environment, many students have a lot to complain about. They are asking to see where the money is being used instead of only demanding a lower tuition. Godaegonggamdae is working to establish a committee for deliberation on the tuition issue which would include students as well.
However, KUSA and KU have not found any common ground. KUSA is experiencing two main difficulties. First, the problem with fairness regarding the structure of the committee, which includes a consultant recommended by the KU president having the right to vote, creating, in KUSA’s opinion, a majority of the administration. KUSA also claims that the administration has not been totally forthcoming regarding accounting documents and budget estimates. For example, the budget only explains in terms of vague categorization such as research expenses, rising suspicions on the possibility of misuse from the top officials.
One solution to this problem is more attention from KU students. However, many students are being docile and complacent, believing that no matter what, nothing will change. The prior example of IsilJikGo—a project which succeeded in getting new laboratory equipments—shows that only students can change the education environment. The participation from students studying in science and engineering enhanced their rights to study in a better environment, trying to make the best out of what they have paid to the school.
KU students have significant pride in the school. Along with that pride comes high expectations. However, when the school keeps delaying tackling important and essential problems, those expectations turn to disappointment. As one of the most prestigious universities in Korea, KU should focus on the betterment of the students' well-being along with providing an accurate assessment of its tuition fees.
▲ KU Science campus; doubts whether improvements KU are being made.Photographed by Kim Na Young