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[Editorial] Auditing universities

The Board of Audit and Inspection starts a three-week audit of 31 private junior colleges and universities throughout the nation next week. All private higher education institutions will be called on to use the outcome of the audit as a reference when they are setting tuition fees. It should also serve as a reference when the government selects insolvent or near insolvent institutions as candidates for liquidation.

The audit starting on Monday follows a preliminary one, which was conducted last month. The state auditor decided to look into the books of private colleges and universities, all of them subsidized by the government, when the political community began to grapple with complaints by students, who claimed that tuition fees were unjustifiably high and demanded that they be cut in half across the board.

Preliminary findings alone were outstanding. They showed all types of misallocations. For instance, one university had collected 15.2 billion won more in tuition fees than required over the past five years. Another paid 1.4 million won toward overseas holidays for every faculty member and employee.

The auditor notified one university that it could have slashed 2.86 million won off this year’s tuition fee of 8.81 million ― almost one-third of the total ― if it had withheld all unnecessary spending and raised non-tuition-fee revenues. If true, the claims by students were not totally misplaced.

The university concerned voiced objection to some of the recommendations, including one that it sell off some of the properties in its possession to expand its scholarship program. Nonetheless, it was undeniable that there was room for cutting tuition fees, if not by a half as demanded by opposition political parties as well as students.

Initially, the ruling Grand National Party made a grave mistake when it agreed to the proposal for an across-the-board cut. It paid little attention to how to finance the plan.

Now it has changed the course, tentatively agreeing with the administration to promote a 21 percent cut for students from the bottom 70 percent of all families in the income distribution. Undoubtedly, a means-tested cut is better than an across-the-board one though there may be complaints from those who are excluded from the benefits.

Help should be given to those who need it. But the final decision on who needs how much aid must be delayed until after the state auditor completes the forthcoming audit.