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Govt. unlikely to support tuition refund for university students

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

The government is unlikely to meddle in disputes over tuition refund between colleges and their students as classes and assessments have shifted online due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

After the Ministry of Education last week made clear the government’s position that it is a matter to be settled between the two sides, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea appears to have reached a similar conclusion Sunday that the issue should be settled by schools, not with taxpayers’ money.

“It is hard for the government to interfere in the tuition fee issue as it is a contract between schools and their individual students,” a member of the party’s policy committee said.

The party appears to be taking a step back from its initial assertion that the government could help students by including a tuition refund program in its third supplementary budget of 35.3 trillion won ($29 billion), which is awaiting parliamentary approval.

Instead of a direct provision of cash to students, the government is exploring ways to encourage universities to return school fees, such as providing some financial support to institutions that decide to repay.

University students has been launching protests to have their fees returned, claiming that their rights to receive education have been violated and online classes are substandard. The coronavirus crisis has led to an upheaval in universities, causing a dash to replace face-to-face lectures with online learning.

Speaking at the National Assembly on June 17, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said the tuition refund issue “should be resolved by colleges autonomously and it is inappropriate for the government to come up with supportive measures.”

Currently, Seoul-based Konkuk University is the only one that has decided to partially refund tuition fees. The refund for its 15,000 students will be offered in the form of a tuition cut for the fall semester.

Prioritizing higher education in injecting taxpayers’ money is a risk for the government when there are tens of thousands of self-employed workers, and those who lost their jobs suffer a blow from the economic fallout of the coronavirus. Over 25 percent of the country’s workforce were self-employed in 2018, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on June 10.

In addition, some 48 percent of the 1.95 million college students are eligible for national scholarships. The government offers the scholarship program to college students who belong to households with monthly average household income of less than 9.5 million won.

There’s still a slim chance that the cash handout scheme could come under consideration to be included in the extra budget due to the main opposition party and other minor groups backing support for students.

The National Assembly hasn’t started its deliberation on the budget bill which President Moon Jae-in hopes will cross legislative hurdles by the end of this month.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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