Won-soon Park, Mayor of Seoul and the chairperson of the operating committee of the University of Seoul (UOS), visited UOS to have a meeting with its students in order to discuss future operating policies, at the Birch Hall on November 9. In particular, the discussion on the pros and cons of lowering or eliminating tuition fees drew many students’ attention, for it had been an emerging issue since Mayor Park mentioned it in early October.
UOS student representatives, including the president and the vice president of the Student Council, Siwon, presented a poll result, saying that opposition to eliminating tuition fees was prevalent among students at UOS. Additionally, they had analyzed data related to the policy that halved tuition fees and proposed suggestions for policy making. It was also emphasized that more communication is needed between the city government and members of UOS in the course of making policies, given that students at the last general student meeting had discussed the issue and that various faculty members also gave their voice to be reflected.
Answering to student representatives, Mayor Park said that he understood students’ demand for a better learning environment and would invest for it, pointing out that the university funds would be raised by 20 billion KRW in the following year to process construction of the UOS Centennial Memorial. He admitted in part that there was lack of communication with students and he would make an effort to improve it.
Eliminating tuition fees is basically an extension of halving the fees, which was Mayor Park’s election pledge and realized in 2012. During Mayor Park’s live streaming show “Won-soon’s X-file,” which is delivered via Facebook, he said that “it is best to spend the city’s funds on investing for the future, and the youth is the future.”
Nevertheless, in spite of Mayor Park’s vision, students at UOS did not happily agree with the idea. Ho-in Shin, the president of UOS Student Council, left a post on Mayor Park’s Facebook saying that the issue needs to be discussed with students because they are already concerned with many other issues such as housing. In a poll carried out after Mayor Park’s comment about the issue, not so many students at UOS agreed with him. With the idea of eliminating tuition fees, only 28.9 percent of students agreed while 63.3 percent disagreed. The biggest concern for those who disagreed was that eliminating tuition fees and thus lowering income of the university would jeopardize the educational environment.
Confronting students’ lukewarm response, Mayor Park had to reserve his vision and take time to reconsider it. In order to reflect students’ opinions, Mayor Park decided to put off starting the new policy, which he initially wanted to start next year.
As well as the tuition issue, other topics were also discussed at the meeting. Regarding the housing issue that many students have trouble with, Mayor Park said the city recognized the problem and would try to resolve it in various manners. Another topic that was raised was that per capita education cost at UOS stopped growing around 12 million KRW whereas public universities have already reached an average of 14 million KRW. Mayor Park said the city government was unaware of not reflecting inflation rates in its budget compilation and would fix the problem.
During the meeting, Mayor Park and other panel members discussed the current issues, with the main focus on the future tuition policy. Student panels had the opportunity to ask various questions to Mayor Park. Ho-in Shin said that even though he generally supports Mayor Park’s policy, there were still many points to be clarified and agreed on through discussions with members of the university. After the panel discussions, audience members also had time to ask questions to panel members.
As well as Mayor Park, UOS President Yun-hi Won also participated as a panel member. Among UOS students, participants included Ho-in Shin and Woo-jung Kim, President and Vice President of UOS student council, and other directors of student bodies.