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GNP proposes 30% tuition cuts

The government and the Grand National Party announced Thursday a new college tuition plan, which aims to cut fees by 30 percent by 2014.

A total of 6.8 trillion won ($6.3 billion) from the national budget and 1.5 trillion won from school scholarship programs will be set aside for tuition cuts in the coming years, said GNP floor leader Hwang Woo-yea.

In order to reduce tuition fees by 15 percent next year, the government will spend 1.5 trillion won, while universities will be required to raise scholarship programs worth 500 billion won.

The government will provide 1.3 trillion won to schools and 200 billion won via a national scholarship program for students from low-income households.

However, the finance issue remains to be discussed as the GNP and government offices have yet to agree on detailed plans.

“We have been pressed for a June deadline. It would be difficult to draw up next year’s budget plan if we cannot solve the tuition issue within the parliamentary session this month,” Hwang said.

“The Finance Ministry has complained about financial difficulties. But we are trying to fix the issue,” he added.

Right after the plan was announced, the Finance Ministry made it clear that more discussions should be made to secure the source of government funding.

“The final figure will be settled after discussing the details. The GNP announcement is more about the approximate size discussed, not the exact number,” said Bang Moon-kyu, spokesperson for the Finance Ministry.

According to the GNP plan, the government would provide 1.2 trillion won to schools that freeze tuition fees for the coming two years, reducing the money that students would have to pay by 10 percent.

For students from the poorest 20 percent of households, the government and schools would together shoulder 80 percent of their tuition fees.

The party also proposed to increase the government’s expenditure for tertiary education to the OECD average of 1 percent of GDP. Currently, Korean spending stands at 0.6 percent of GDP.

The plan also will call for decreasing the interest on a state college loan program, while exempting payment for students who are in military service.

In a bid to improve the efficiency of school management, the party hinted at major restructuring at universities as well.

As part of the plan, the party will approve pending revision bills within the June parliamentary session that allow the government to remove underperforming or corrupt school management.

However, civic groups continued to show disappointment with the GNP plan, saying the support was far less than what the party originally promised in its half-tuition policy, one of the key pledges by President Lee Myung-bak. 
President Lee Myung-bak meets college students in a coffee shop near Sogang University in northwestern Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap News)
President Lee Myung-bak meets college students in a coffee shop near Sogang University in northwestern Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap News)

“At least 5 trillion won is needed to halve the tuition fees. The new plan to increase the support up to 3 trillion won in 2014 is far from the half tuition,” the National Tuition Network, a civic group which has led the ongoing tuition rally, said in a statement.

According to the group, a budget of 5.7 trillion won should be earmarked to cover half the total annual tuition of 11.4 trillion won.

“The government and the GNP have no idea about the seriousness of the tuition issue, which is the direct reason for the falling birthrate and widening income gap, and about the public demand that the social responsibility for education should be strengthened,” they said.

Meanwhile, the presidential office said the timing of the announcement was poor, with the talks between President Lee Myung-bak and Rep. Sohn hak-kyu, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party, planned for next Monday.

“The main agenda on the day will be tuition cuts and they are to join forces for the first time in a long time. (GNP) should have considered the positions of the opposition party and the leader,” said a Cheong Wa Dae official said.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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