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The Registration War: Where Did It Come From?

Many Kingos may have failed to register for the classes they wanted this semester because of the fierce competition on class registration day, or lack of the classes that they wanted to attend. In these cases, students sometimes visit their professors and beg for an extra position or take a seasonal semester on vacation. However, it may be questionable as to why students cannot take the classes that they want. Such a small number of lectures compared to the number of students is always raised as a problem. Accordingly, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) now looks into the issues of a lack of lectures at universities.

Students Who Failed to Sign Up Lectures (pixabay.com)

What Caused the Lack of Lectures?

Enforcement of the Act on Part-Time Lecturers

The reason for the lack of lectures is deeply related to the Act on Part-Time Lecturers. The official name of the Act on Part-Time Lecturers is a partial amendment to the Higher Education Act, enacted to protect part-time lecturers. The law includes the following matters:

∙ University is required to re-assign lecturers to the legal faculty status that was forfeited before.

∙ Lecturers must be hired for at least one year and guaranteed the rehiring process for three years.

∙ University is required to pay lecturers during vacation periods and for severance, and offer four major insurances.

The original purpose of the law was to improve the treatment of part-time lecturers, but most universities fired lecturers and reduced classes due to concerns about additional labor costs. The implementation of the law has been suspended four times since 2011. During those four suspensions, the reduction rate of lecturers was particularly noticeable in the year ahead of the implementation of the law. According to the Korea Higher Education Research Institute, the number of instructors in Seoul decreased by 33.4% from 2011 to 2018, when the Act on Part-Time Lecturers was suspended. SKKU showed one of the highest rates of decline, recording 96% of the decreasing rate. Also, the number of courses for the second semester at 196 domestic universities in 2019 decreased by 5,800 compared to the second semester of the previous year due to the implementation of the law. Korea University announced a plan to cut classes by 20% from the second semester of 2019 and reduce graduation credits from 130 to 120 points. However, the plan has been postponed due to strong criticism. Yonsei University has abolished 98 out of 157 elective liberal arts courses since 2019, while Kyunghee University reduced its graduation credits from 130 to 120 points for the freshmen of 2018.

The Financial Burden of Universities

Universities have their own opinions. According to the Korea Council for University Education, universities in Korea rely on tuition for about 70% of their income. With the tuition frozen for 12 years and even admission with fees being abolished in 2023, universities expect to suffer from worse financial difficulties. As the school-age population is also expected to decrease at a steep rate, universities are likely to tighten their belts as their income will decline too. To prepare for an uncertain future, universities have no choice but to reduce their spending as much as possible. However, there are opinions that most universities are exaggerating their pain. Private universities in Korea have the accumulated reserves, funds for a specific purpose, which amount to approximately 8 trillion won altogether. Critics point out that universities should fix their financial management and operational structures before complaining about their financial difficulties.

Students Become Victims

Several Courses that Are Poor in Quality

Changes in The Number of Classes by Scale in SKKU (news.unn.net)

Schools increase the maximum number of students in a class instead of opening new classes of popular lectures. According to Higher Education in Korea, the number of small-scale classes with fewer than 20 students decreased by 99 in 2019 compared to 2018, but the number of large-scale lectures with 51 or more students increased by 206 in 2019. Large-scale classes are often taught in a one-sided way because it is difficult for professors to communicate with each student. Also, students might lose concentration when they take lectures with many students in large classes. As a result, the quality of education decreases.

Universities use online lectures on portal systems, such as i-Campus at SKKU, which enables a relatively large number of students to enroll compared to offline ones. Online lectures were created to overcome financial and spatial limits, but actually, they are not the original intention, which is to provide high-quality lectures to many students. Some students often criticize that the same lectures are used for many years. Such criticism indicates that there exists the possibility that school and some students misuse i-Campus for their own benefit: the former spending less on creating new lectures, while the latter taking advantage of lectures with the same old contents. Also, there is no interaction between professors and students for most of i-Campus lectures. Regarding the exam, to evaluate many students, most online lectures’ tests are simply memorizing information and answering multiple-choice questions rather than descriptive questions, even in the Humanities and Social Science departments.

Sale of Classes

If students cannot sign up for classes, they may not be able to take the class that they want or that meets the requirements for graduation. According to Job Korea and Albamon, in a survey of 3,707 university students who applied for the fall semester of 2018, 29.5% of students said they failed to apply for the classes they wanted. 52.8% of students said that one of the reasons for the failure was that students went for popular lectures, and 39.6% of students said that the class had small positions. Students who fail to sign up for classes often trade classes. SKKU operates a system to prevent the sale of lectures, which reflects the deletion results after a random time when someone deletes lectures. In other universities without such a system, however, students write posts in anonymous communities looking for people selling lectures. The price ranges from 100,000 won to 250,000 won for each lecture. Some people abuse it to register for popular classes and sell them to buyers. Introducing the system to prevent the sale of lectures can prevent trades between students, but it does not solve the problem that lies beneath. Measures to prevent the sale of lectures are important, but solving the fundamental issues is required.

School for Students

Supplementing the Act on Part-time Lecturers

Unlike the original goals of the law, which aimed to stabilize the employment of part-time lecturers and improve treatment, the biggest victims because of the implementation of the law are part-time lecturers. Some universities try to bypass the law by hiring lecturers in the name of visiting professors or adjunct professors who are not subject to the Act on Part-Time Lecturers. Visiting professors are experts in certain fields who can pass their field experience to students. They can be invited to teach at university if they have a certain degree of education required by the university. Still, they do not need to be guaranteed their position in the university, unlike part-time lecturers. Many universities are using such points to circumvent the law. The Korea Federation of the National University Association called for strict measures against universities ahead of the law in 2018. In order to prevent such tricks for avoiding responsibility, specific government-level measures are needed. Closing the loopholes in the law is necessary, and the Ministry of Education should keep its eyes on the universities for continuous monitoring.

More Investment in the Educational System

Students indeed want more classes. It is time to invest in the educational environment for students. As mentioned above, the accumulated reserve of private universities in Korea are about 8 trillion won. Reserves are not money that can be spent recklessly because their uses are all specifically designated. Article 32 of the Private School Act stipulates that these reserves should be used for research, construction, scholarship, retirement, and other specific purposes. Since part-time lectures as well as professors contribute to academic research, the reserves can be used to improve the treatment of part-time lecturers in the form of research support expenses if universities want to. Additionally, the Ministry of Education announced in June 2019 that they could include a “total number of courses” and “credits lecturers in charge” in University and College Innovation Support Projects. It starts from this year and will help to prevent large-scale layoffs of part-time lecturers and a reduction of classes. The conclusive solution to the situation is to increase the number of lectures, so universities need to hire lecturers to meet the demand of the students instead of just trying to reduce labor costs.

A more fundamental solution is needed to get out of the course registration war occurring every semester. SKKU is ranked 95th in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2020, showing its provision of a high level of education. However, no matter how high the university ranking is, it means nothing to students if they do not feel like their university is good enough. The school should consider the students' rights to study and the quality of the lectures given, rather than caring about its public image and focusing on the results of university evaluations.

백주희  vb852@naver.com

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