▲ UOS students’ comments on UOS’s online commuity, Gwangjang.
The reduction of tuition fees by half was certainly a welcoming news for students at University of Seoul (UOS) where tuition had been already comparatively cheap. By reducing the annual tuition fees by two million won in total, the Half Tuition Fees Policy was considered to have successfully helped students concentrate more on their studies, easing their financial burden. However, good medicine is usually bitter in the mouth. The implementation of these lower tuition fees had a substantial ripple effect. Students are concerned that they would lose certain benefits due to these decreases.
Just as when someone says the word ‘Rain’ you think ‘Umbrella’, it became almost natural for students to associate the lower tuition fees with whatever changes made in school systems or programs this year. In addition, as some changes were actually made without any official announcements, students began to cast doubts on the effect of lower tuition fees. As a result, rumors had been caused by these doubts and started to become accepted as facts among students who believe that they are now receiving half the quality of treatment since the tuition fees were lowered.
We wrote this article to clarify these rumors, as we were concerned that these rumors and complaints could spread even further. We met UOS staff to find out the details and reasons behind the changes made this year and their attitudes towards students’ rumors about half-priced tuition fees. Most importantly, however, we ascertained through these interviews with the staff whether students are receiving poorer treatment because of the lower tuition fees.
How the Half Tuition Fees Policy was Carried Out
Before clearing up the rumors, you should know a little background on how the half-priced tuition fees were realized. Tuition fees include admission fees, fees for classes and fees for school supporting associations. Among them, admission fees and fees for classes are assigned to General Accounts and fees for school supporting associations are assigned to School Support Accounts. After the lower tuition fees had been established, UOS’s budgets were decreased from last year as much as 3.4 billion won in General Accounts and 14.8 billion won in School Support Accounts. Therefore, the city of Seoul additionally contributed 18.2 billion won to UOS’s General Accounts to make up for the school’s shortage resulted from reduction of tuition fees, independently of 64.8 billion won prearranged in 2012.
The reason why Seoul’s mayor, Park Won-Soon, had promised this radical support and fulfilled his promise is that he thought our society needed a university where students can study without being overly concerned about tuition fees. He also believed that students who study in such a university would use their skills and knowledge for society and show their gratitude to society. He looked ahead into the future. Actually, when he visited UOS last November, he said “If students carry out their social responsibility, the budget we organized would go back into society thereby resulting 10 times or 1,000 times more valuable assets.”
True or False About the Lower Tuition Fees
Some students, along with others who are not associated with the school, do not believe that the school has extra budgets for the half-priced tuition fees. Based on such ideas, rumors about consequences of the lower fees spread on UOS’s online community ‘Gwangjang.’ To smoke out if the rumors were true or not, we visited University Center and interviewed some of the people in charge, who requested their names remain anonymous.* The following questions are often mentioned rumors on Gwangjang and the answers were spoken by school officials. For your convenience, we classified the rumors into two groups: controversies of budget cuts and controversies of school’s autonomy.
1) Controversies of Budget Cuts Students mostly wonder about whether the lower tuition fees directly affect the operating budgets. Students react sensitively to reduced benefits and raise questions about whether necessary services are decreased due to the lower tuition fees. So there are some rumors that cannot yet be verified. Among the rumors, we asked about the Global Leadership Program (GLP), Global Cafe S, student awards, as well as supporting research funds and student welfare issues.
Q. Did the number of teams supported by GLP, a program that provide students with opportunities to go abroad, be reduced in exchange for reducing tuition fees? A. “The programs that support or provide opportunities for students to go abroad were not reduced at all. GLP is one of the Advancement for College Education (ACE) projects that is being promoted since 2010. However, the announcement of which universities would receive support from ACE this year has been delayed from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST). That is why we could not tell the students on time that we were going to continue GLP this year. In addition, the funding from ACE was reduced from three hundred million won to one hundred million won, so the number of teams and support funds were diminished as well. However, lots of programs, such as overseas volunteer programs that support sending students abroad, are still being created. So even if the funding for GLP is reduced, there are still many other ways to go abroad.”
Q. Global Cafe S is considered the only place for students to learn English in a free and comfortable atmosphere. Did the cafe have to be shut down due to the lower tuition fees? A. “No, the cafe has not been abolished. Global cafe S, which name is going to be changed to Global Lounge, will be moved to Economics and Business Building and integrated with Hangukauhakdang cafe (한국어학당 카페). Also, the administration system of the cafe is going to be changed, with a foreign exchange student now running the cafe. The reason why we could not announce the changes in-depth is that the approval of the change has not been finalized yet. However, I want to emphasize the fact that the changes made in Global cafe S are for the improvement of the cafe and are not related to the lower tuition fees at all.”
Q. Is it unreasonable to assume that the decrease in student awards is because of the decrease in tuition fees? A. “No, it is not. ’Student Awards with Parents’ has paid out 100 thousand won since 2006 to students who have the best GPA (Grade Point Average) in each major every semester. By the way, even if there were no prizes, these students have already received a full scholarship. Besides, according to survey results of students who have won the award in the past, 200 of them were beneficiaries twice and 60 of them had received the award three times. So the ratio of participation is very low except among freshmen and their parents. The sophomores think that similar awards for each semester are unnecessary. Therefore, we changed the award’s form to invite only freshmen and their parents and we decided not to pay the 100 thousand won prize any more. It has nothing to do with the lower tuition fees.”
Q. If the budget for research funds is reduced, the school’s educational level might suffer. Do you not agree that decreasing research funds decreases the school’s quality as well? A. “Research funds are not related to the school’s general accounts or school support accounts. They are relevant to industrial-educational cooperation accounts. This fact alone shows that research funds have nothing to do with lower tuition fees. Research funds are administered by the Foundation of Industry-Academic Cooperation (FIAC). Managed money comes from outside of the school. When professors obtain research projects from nations or private companies, they also receive the research funds from their clients. In research funds, there are overhead costs, which should be collected by FIAC. However, FIAC also gives money back to professors for Research Promotion Work. Thus, research funds are not related to the students directly.”
Q. If the budgets for student welfare are reduced because of the lower tuition fees, it is a contradiction, right? A. “School officials pay special attention to student welfare when we plan the budget. While it is true that the budget for Student Council has been slightly decreased this year, it is because last year’s Student Council spent less money than the planned budget. So we referred to last year’s case and reduced the budget accordingly. However, the other part of the reduction in welfare is not true and also has nothing to do with the halved tuition fees.”
As well, the rumor that the 2020 Master Plan has been canceled or delayed is not related to the tuition fees at all. Rather, it is due to the austerity budget of the city of Seoul and its worsening deficits.
2) Controversies of School’s Autonomy A rumor has it that UOS will lose most of its autonomy and many policies will be newly organized or revised due to pressure from the city. The entrance examination system for Seoul citizen’s children and social contribution programs are mentioned as examples.
Q. Has the UOS’s entrance examination system been revised for children of Seoul citizens who opposed cutting tuition fees? A. “No, the entrance exam selection for Seoul citizens’ children was already established even before the Half Tuition Fees Policy was carried out. We also had been planning to increase the number of students selected from Seoul every year. We have just started to actively carry out these plans with the Half Tuition Fees Policy taken into effect. There are two options for students who are residents of Seoul to apply to UOS: ‘Seoul Haeksim Injae option’(서울핵심인재전형)** and ‘UOS Gihwae Gyundeong option’(UOS기회균등전형)***. ‘UOS Gihwae Gyundeong option’, which was originally named ‘Sahwaegiyeo Mit Baeryu Daesangja Teokbyul option’(사회기여 및 배려대상자 특별전형), used to be classified as regular, or also known as Jungsi admission. Then its name changed and was moved to occasional recruitment, or Susi admission, increasing the number of students to be admitted by 27. Since UOS received so much attention from people and the media after implementing the Half Tuition Fees Policy, it has been reported that these changes were made suddenly because of the lower tuition fees.”
Q. Did the city of Seoul put more pressure on UOS to contribute to the public welfare system as UOS is benefitting from the lower tuition fees? A. “No, UOS’s plan to contribute to the public welfare was discussed well before November 2011, which is when the Half Tuition Fees Policy began to take effect. From May 2011, when the present president of UOS, Lee, Kun, assumed office, our vision of ‘A university to mature together with the community’ has been emphasized and organizing a ‘Sahwae Gonghun team’(사회공헌팀)**** was initially discussed as well. Seoul’s mayor has also put an emphasis on the reinforcement of the social responsibility and publicness of UOS’s in November 2011, when the enforcement of the Half Tuition Fees Policy was confirmed. Thus, because of this, more detailed action plans for the contribution to the public welfare have been initiated beginning this year.”
In addition, a rumor that the city of Seoul demanded the abolition of UOS president’s direct election was a complete misunderstanding. As a matter of fact, MEST demanded its abolition, not the Seoul city government. Therefore, it was also not related to the lower tuition fees.
Half-priced Communication, Not Half-priced Treatment
According to UOS staff, it was ascertained that a lot of rumors on Gwangjang were not factual, but rather misunderstandings. However, most of the staff was not aware that there were so many misunderstandings and arguments among students. Then why did these misunderstandings arise and why are they still not being solved?
We came to a conclusion that it was due to lack of communication between the university and students. When the university changed the budgets for some programs, it did not make them public nor fully clarify students why the changes were made. Therefore, students had no choice but to assume the reasons behind the changes based on groundless theories. On the other hand, the university did not even know there were such misunderstandings. Thus, it means that communication between the students and school was non-existent. Eventually, the students, university and Student Council were all equally responsible for this problem.
First, students did not do their best to resolve their misunderstandings, even though they had a lot of doubts about them. Students merely cast their doubts anonymously on Gwangjang. They might as well had aggressively opposed to the changes or expressed their doubts on how the budget may have been reduced due to the lower tuition fees. The university, then, could have reconsidered the changes in the budget or been more transparent in negotiating with the students regarding the changes. A mother does not know whether her baby is hungry or not until he cries for his mother’s breast. For the university, it has no way to know what students complain about, unless students ask for explanations regarding certain changes.
The same goes for the university. It should have made an announcement and clearly expressed the reasons for the changes in the systems or programs to which the students may be sensitive. For students, if they had found out that the scholarship or benefits they had been expecting were suddenly reduced without any reasons announced, they would certainly be upset. If only the university would have considered the situation from the students’ point of view and explained the situation and reasons for the changes in the budget, many of these problems could have been avoided.
Finally, the Student Council, which is expected to act as an intermediary between the students and university, could have done better as well. Realistically, it is hard for students to directly propose suggestions or complaints to the university. The Student Council is there to speak for students as a representative for them. It is also its mission and responsibility to clearly deliver campus affairs or matters to the students. As in this case, students just threw their complaints on the online community website, since they found it difficult to directly contact the university. As students cast their doubts on Gwangjang with rumors they believed in, misunderstandings have spread among other students as well. They ultimately reached a point where they began to believe that they were receiving poorer treatments because of the lower tuition fees. If these misunderstandings continue to spread, there is a possibility that there will be some students who are opposed to the Half Tuition Fees Policy itself. Therefore, as there were a lot of posts by the students, casting doubts on the sudden changes and raising objections to them, the Student Council should have taken this problem more seriously. Although it did comment on some of these posts to attempt to correct some misunderstandings, it definitely should have been more active towards resolving this problem.
According to the interviews with UOS staff, it was revealed that the rumors that UOS students had were mostly misunderstandings and that the reduction of tuition fees were not much relevant to the recent changes. However, since UOS is as of yet the first and only university to adopt the Half Tuition Fees Policy, it has many trials and errors to undergo ahead. There could be conflicts when new changes are introduced.
As to provide an answer to the problem with the conflict between the university and students, we came across the keyword ‘Communication’. The conflict was not caused by the Half Tuition Fees Policy itself, but rather the lack of communication between students and the university. Moreover, since both were equally responsible for causing the misunderstandings, both of them need to improve their communication with each other. The university has responsibility to provide students with adequate announcements and explanations about important administrative changes, while the students should have more sense of ownership with the university and be more concerned about campus affairs. If they can be more understanding to each other through communication, UOS’s title of ‘The first and only University to introduce the Half Tuition Fees Policy’ will certainly shine brighter.
The word ‘Communication’ means ‘Share.’ If one does not ‘Share’ his or her thoughts or opinions with the other, then it would only be half of a communication.
* We interviewed school officials who work at Office of Student Affairs, Office of General Administration, Foundation of Industry-Academic Cooperation and Institute of International Cooperation and Education.
** In English terms, UOS Equal Opportunity Option.
*** In English terms, an Option for Students Graduated High Schools in Seoul.
**** In English terms, Social Contribution Team.