South Korea The decision to scrap entry fees for undergraduate applicants in 2023 could leave institutions with “no choice” to increase tuition costs despite their aim to increase access to university.
While some universities have waived entry fees by 2022, more than 40 percent had yet to do so as of December. The move, which has been planned for several years, is to “ease the pressure on college students and parents,” according to the Korea National Education Committee.
Students in the country typically pay around 647,000 won (£422), with higher private university fees sometimes exceeding 1 million won.
While the move to lower entry fees has the potential to ease the “financial crisis” for students, some academics fear the decision could lead to universities scrambling to make up for what they cannot afford to charge applicants and simply convert the costs into regular student fees.
“Tuition fees should be increased,” said Jun Yoo, a professor at the Department of Korean Language and Literature at Yonsei University.
“The problem in South Korea is that universities don’t have large endowments compared to the US, so charging admission fees is key to offset the high cost of maintaining the campus, staff, faculty salaries. [and] Other expenses,” he said, adding that South Korean tuition is still a “bargain” compared to the West.
To avoid tuition hikes, Korean universities need to cut back elsewhere, which means reducing staff and becoming more conservative in their spending, Professor Yoo said.
He pointed out that the institutions are struggling with expenses, including the cost of electricity, which has lasted for four decades. Yonsei University, the country’s most prestigious university, is under further pressure, with salary negotiations “squeezed out” by annual strikes by custodians and language teachers calling for higher wages.
Without the “cushion” of entry fees, Professor Yoo questioned whether institutions would have enough money to keep researchers producing in high-profile publications.
“Will the faculty have enough money to incentivize publishing more SSCI-indexed articles because they have to do so much mindless administrative work and take on so many students?” he said.
He believed that the government should compensate for any shortage of funds. “If the universities are being forced to waive admission fees, the Ministry of Education should at least try to subsidize the costs.”