Students hold a protest rally in Seoul, in this April 3 photo, calling on universities to refund tuition, as they have had to pay full tuition for low-quality online classes, as well as been unable to use school facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yonhap
By Bahk Eun-ji
Nearly 90 percent of college students want their tuition refunded, even if only partially, as their second-semester courses are likely to be provided mostly online again, similar to the past three semesters since early 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
They claim it is unreasonable for schools to charge the full amount of tuition, because students are not using on-campus facilities, and the quality of online classes is inferior to regular, in-person ones.
After consultations with universities, the Ministry of Education announced on June 24 that schools would expand in-person lectures gradually during the fall semester, starting with classes requiring experiments or practicums, and those with few students.
The ministry had originally said that offline lectures would be expanded starting from the end of September, by which time 70 percent of the population is expected to have received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the government’s estimates.
However, as the virus situation has become more serious during this fourth wave of infections, some universities have announced their plans to delay the return to in-person classes. Seoul National University said last week that it will keep lectures online for one more month until the end of September, while many other schools in Seoul have announced that they will maintain online classes as long as the Level 4 social distancing measures are still in place.
These plans are angering students who have been dissatisfied with the quality of online classes and being cut off from school facilities, prompting them to demand tuition refunds.
College students hold a press conference in front of Seoul Central District Court before filing a lawsuit demanding a refund of their spring semester tuition fees from their schools, on July 1, 2020. Yonhap
The National University Student Council Network, a network of university student councils across the country, conducted a survey of 2,484 students in July just after the end of the first semester, and 89.3 percent of them agreed that universities should refund tuition in full or at least partially for the fall semester of last year and the spring semester of this year.
In March, a group of college students’ associations, including the network, raised the issue of the inferior quality of online lectures. It also filed a lawsuit against the education ministry and universities in July of last year, seeking tuition refunds due to disruptions in student learning. The lawsuit had participation of some 3,500 students from 42 universities across the country.
In this regard, the education ministry has made it clear that the issue of tuition refunds is not a matter requiring the ministry’s direct involvement, saying that universities should discuss the matter with their students.
Last year, the ministry secured 100 billion won ($87.4 million) in the supplementary budget to offer to universities that made efforts to improve their online lectures and to support students who were financially hit by the pandemic, such as expanding scholarships. But this year, the ministry has not been considering such support.
“The ministry provided emergency funds to universities for their remote learning in the form of special scholarships last year. But this year, many universities are making efforts to improve the quality of their online lectures, and their experience has also accumulated,” said Choi Eun-ok, chief director of the higher education policy division at the ministry.
“We believe that the students’ satisfaction level (with the lectures) has improved a bit, so further support, as we provided last year, has not been considered yet,” Choi said.