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A Plausible Announcement? Half-Price University Tuition Policy

“The half-price university tuition policy was fulfilled by the endeavor of the government and universities.” How do you feel about this catch line? Recently, the statement was a hot potato among university students and their parents. The government posted advertisements with the statement in public transportations and triggered a huge backlash from the public. What made the advertisement a controversial issue? The answer could be found in the different understanding of “half-price tuition” between the government and the public. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) explains the recent policies of university tuition and hopes for a better future for half-price tuition.

The Controversy of Half Tuition Advertisement

Last December, the Ministry of Education and the Korea Student Aid Foundation (KOSAF) started to post advertisements about half-price tuition in various places. They were shown in subways, KTX, TV commercials, and even theaters. According to the Ministry of Education and KOSAF, they assured the accomplishment of half-price tuition by their policies. University students and their parents, however, have shown a different stance to the advertisement and even the policy itself. In order to investigate the truth of the advertisement, it is important to understand the government and the public’s opinion.

JTBC /“JTBC Newsroom” Reporting the Controversial Advertisement

1. Difference Between Recognition of the Parties:

Students’ Position vs. Government’s Position

Students’ Position: ‘Half-price’ should be a real 50 percent reduction.

University students are displeased with the advertisement for various reasons. The fundamental reason is that the students cannot realize the actual decrease in their tuition. Students thought of half-price tuition as a real 50 percent reduction in their tuition bill, but after receiving their tuition bills with a similar amount compared to the year before, they felt that the government was nationally advertising a false report.

Ministry of Education

Moreover, students are worried that the advertisement may misguide other uninformed citizens and keep their attention away from the main issue. A student of SKKU said, “I’m afraid that citizens would believe that every student’s tuition is really cut in half.” “I thought that half-price tuition policy is to decrease the tuition in half, like University of Seoul.” said another. The advertisement incurred students’ anger by its misleading message.

Government’s Position: The allotted budget was more than 50 percent of the total tuition amount.

The government regards half-price tuition as supporting 50 percent of the total tuition amount of the nation by giving subsidies according to individuals’ family income levels.

The website of KOSAF specifies that the half-price tuition policy is not reducing the number in the tuition bill itself, but giving scholarships and grants to students according to their economic levels. This will eventually reduce the total amount of the national tuition to half of its current amount. In other words, the government focuses on the total amount that students pay, not the individual’s tuition itself.

More specifically, according to the Ministry of Education, in 2015, the total subsidies granted by the government and the universities amounted to \7 trillion. The budget of the government was \3.9 trillion, and the budget of the universities was \3.1 trillion. Considering that the total tuition amount in 2011 was \14 trillion, the government and universities provided half as much with \7 trillion. By the government’s explanation, this indicates the fulfillment of half-price tuition. From the beginning stage, the government planned to fulfill half-price tuition by financial supports such as scholarships and grants. Past activities of the government clearly show their aim. For instance, a policy debate was held in last April in which the agendas were related to half-price tuition relevant to family income level. The efforts of the government, including the debate, finally helped its plan come into reality.

Analysis

Comparing the two stances, it is apparent that the term “half” was clearly conceived differently by the two parties. It is certainly true that there were great efforts from the government to support university students financially. It is also understandable why students are upset with the advertisement. Students were expecting the tuition amount itself to decrease, but the government did not share the same idea.

2. Hasty Advertising without Enough Consideration of Budget and Public Opinion

The amount of university tuition has been one of the biggest issues in Korean society for years. Even though the government asserts that they strived for tuition reduction, many students could not see any decrease in their tuition. From a social perspective, the advertisement showed a one-sided policy fulfillment for the government, without the agreement of the public or the support of university students. Therefore, the government cannot avoid criticisms that the efforts to achieve half-price tuition were for their own honor, not for the students. Moreover, the government should have surveyed the students to determine if they were realizing a decreased tuition. Instead, the publication of the advertisements was carried out without checking the students’ satisfaction with the policy. In addition, the expenditure for posting the advertisements was not little. The requested proposal from KOSAF showed that last year’s total advertising expenditure was over \200 million. Even though the expenditure may include those for advertisements other than the one for half-price tuition, it cannot be ignored. These factors imply that the half-price advertisement was a hasty publication of the government.

Policy for Half-Price Tuition

Ministry of Education

Presidential election pledges were announced during campaigns before the presidential election. At that time, President Park Geun-hye had promised half-price tuition as one of her “10 Point Pledges” that she claimed she would fulfill by 2014. The pledge book says that the government will give financial aid to students according to their family income level, ranging from 1 to 8, in order to reduce students’ burden in half.

Current Situation

According to the Laboratory of University Education, the proportion of students who received scholarships from the government during the second semester of 2014 was 41.7 percent. This figure shows that the pledge was not fulfilled by 2014. It is certain that the government steadily strived to reduce students’ burden of tuition after the election. Nevertheless, its efforts were not enough to satisfy students’ expectations.

Future Prospect of Half-Price Tuition

Necessity for Policy Development

The importance and need for the real half-price tuition policy has increased over time. According to the research of Yong Gu Seo, a professor at Sookmyung Women’s University, the University Student Living Index (ULI) shows the necessity clearly. If the index is 1.0, it indicates that university students can handle their tuition and living expenses through their part-time jobs. An index of zero means the opposite; students cannot handle their expenses. Korea recorded 0.72 in 1985, but in 2015, the index was a mere 0.21. The changed index implies the harsh economic condition of students. Additionally, the students not only want various types of scholarships, but also the reduction of the tuition itself. By gathering opinions from the public, the government should directly recognize that the public is not satisfied with the current result, which the government calls “half-price tuition fulfillment.” Better countermeasures and a new system that can easily foster an agreement by both students and the government should be prepared in the near future.

Government’s Scheme

This January, the plan for the 2016 national student aid was announced. The announcement declared that the grant will be increased for students from low-income families. Through the increase, the government expects to financially support 700,000 students who are below family income level 4. A member of the Ministry of Education said, “the direction of the policies is right. Anyhow, \7 trillion is invested by the policy and we will constantly strive for better service.” Some are concerned that the scheme does not go far enough because the support may be limited to only the low-income families below income level 4.

Contradiction in the Current Policy

The government supports university students economically by giving national grants and scholarships. The problem lies, however, in the process through which KOSAF distributes these scholarships. Acceptance or rejection to receive national grants and scholarships is largely determined by the income of each student’s family. Many loopholes exist in the process. First is the lack of accuracy in calculating family income levels. Students whose parents run private businesses or work overseas are the core of this loophole. Overseas properties and private business incomes are difficult to accurately calculate. Therefore, even though their family income is high, the assigned income level from KOSAF is lower than reality, which makes them eligible for more grants. Skepticism also exists regarding the family income level system itself. As the system reveals some miscalculations, supports to high-income families seems wasteful. Many students who are actually less wealthy than the students of the loophole cannot receive grants because their family income level assigned by KOSAF is higher. These contradictions lead to skeptical views toward the system itself. The public is questioning why family income level should be the sole indicator. The SKT hopes the limitations can be resolved by future solutions.

The Story of SKKU Tuition and Scholarship

Last January, a sudden debate arose regarding SKKU’s scholarship program. Some students were curious about an unexpected deposit in their accounts. A few days later, the university put up a notice about the situation. It was an explanation that the deposit was an additional provision for students who were selected as recipients of the “Moon Haeng Scholarship” in the first semester of last year. The SKT further investigated SKKU’s tuition and scholarship practices by interviewing a student.

===interview====

Who is the Student ◯◯◯?

- Parents are independent businessmen

- Received scholarships last year

- Last year’s 1st semester family income level: 3

- Last year’s 2nd semester family income level: 4

- This year’s 1st semester family income level: 8

Q1 Have you seen the advertisement of half-price tuition? How did you feel?

A1 Yes, I have seen the advertisement. Students do not pay their tuition in half, so I think it is an exaggerated advertisement. I know that the government promised to support students by scholarships and did lots of work last year, but it is still not enough to reduce every student’s burden.

Q2 The policies related to university tuition are mainly about scholarships. Most scholarships are given according to the family income level. What do you think about the level evaluation?

A2 I am generally satisfied with the policy and think that the evaluations are mostly correct. Last year, I was assigned low levels in my family income level and received scholarship. But this year, the level changed to 8. The big increase in my level was because of my parents’ business debt. To be honest, my parents’ income was higher than the levels we received last year. Last year, my parents had private loans, and I could get lower levels. This year, my parents changed the private loans to business loans, and the level went up. The evaluation system has limits that cannot distinguish high-income families from low-income families. For instance, private businessmen’s income is hard for the government to correctly calculate.

Q3 Do you have any expectations or suggestions for future policies?

A3 Personally, I think the policies are getting better. I heard that a few years ago, the scholarships were given by payments of healthcare insurance, which led to inaccurate income levels. So the government seems to be trying to make better policies. However, I expect the government and universities to reduce the tuition itself like some European countries. I have friends who need loans to pay their tuition. But if the tuition itself got lower, my friends would have a better university life.

According to JTBC Newsroom, in a survey conducted right after the presidential election, the half-tuition policy took third place in what the public is most expecting from the president. As public attention is focused on the policy, the advertisement cannot avoid criticism that fulfillment of half-price tuition was a hasty announcement. In a way, this issue may have resulted from either the deprivation of sympathy or from a disagreement between the government and the public. The SKT looks forward to further attempts by the government to share the ultimate goal with the public: the happiness of university students.

임용희  eloise05@naver.com

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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