Group drinking on campus grounds has long been the typical image of college festivals in Korea, but this year, the festivals won’t be the same.
According to announcements given by several university student councils near the start of May, the Ministry of Education, following a request from the National Tax Service, advised student bodies on May 1 to restrict the sale of alcohol, which students had commonly done on campus grounds.
The reason was that those without a license to sell alcohol could face punishment according to liquor tax law.
While taken aback by the notice from the government, given only a week or two before the start of festivals at many universities, students showed responded in different ways to the move.
“I’ve run ‘jujeom’ multiple times before, and I always wondered why they were not regulated even though they were legally questionable,” said Kim Seung-il, 22, a student at Sungkyunkwan University. “Since I have been aware that (students’ selling alcohol without a license) is clearly illegal, I think the ban is a necessary move.”
“Jujeom” refers to bars set up in tents on campus grounds during festival season, organized and operated by students. Students have traditionally cooked up side dishes and sold them along with alcoholic beverages, often at high prices.
Pictured is a board that says, “We do not sell drinks (Please bring your own),” put up by a department of Sejong University in Gwangjin-gu, eastern Seoul on May 10. (Yonhap)
Kim, who previously planned to run a cocktail bar at this year’s festival at Sungkyunkwan University, which ran from May 9-11, switched to a food truck after being notified of the alcohol sale restriction.
“I think the only problem (with the ministry’s move) was the timing,” Kim said. “It would have been better if the government gave the notice before the planning stage of the festival.”
Hong You-kyoung, a 22-year-old at Yonsei University in Seoul, also expressed positive views toward the restriction. “I think it is wrong for students to sell alcohol without an official license and take the revenue for themselves, not even paying taxes,” Hong said.
“Also, since students are still permitted to bring their own drinks, I think the alcohol sales ban doesn’t affect the festive mood too much,” she said.
Although students were prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages, they could drink on campus by bringing drinks bought outside of school. Some departments provided alcoholic beverages for free, while others decided not to open jujeom at all.
“In the past, I personally felt pressured to order more drinks at jujeom when people at other tables were drinking a lot, but from now on I think I could feel more comfortable,” Hong added.
Meanwhile, some students who valued the prominent drinking culture among college students were skeptical of the ministry’s policy to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages.
“Even if student councils could give out drinks for free, I don’t think the quantity could match that of when students had sold drinks at jujeom,” said Youn Jin-hyun, 21, currently in his second year at Sogang University.
“Although I acknowledge the intention of the restriction, I think it was wrong to implement such measures without consulting students, as selling (and drinking) alcohol had traditionally been the most enjoyable part of college festivals,” Youn added.
Another Sogang University student, Park Cheol-hyun, was also critical about the policy. “Honestly, students do this kind (of event) only once or twice a year,” said Park. “I feel that the festival that students could enjoy in the past has been taken away from us.”
Student councils acknowledged the legal issues involving the jujeom but pointed out that the timing and method in which government gave the notice were inappropriate.
“While it is true that jujeom up until now has violated the law, it should have been taken into account that jujeom has long been a tradition among college students,” wrote the student council of Yonsei University in its Facebook post on May 3. “The Ministry of Education and the National Tax Service should have put in effort to truly consider the students’ situations and hear their voices.”
By Cho Yun-myung (firstname.lastname@example.org