[Viewpoint] Put the country, not the party, firstThere has been a heap of furor displayed in the National Assembly’s Education and Science Committee conference room over the last few days. Committee members packed into the room on the weekend to labor over a government-proposed bill to offer a moratorium on the repayment of student loans until employment. Lawmakers on the committee who shunned a legislative review and stayed away from the assembly for the past 100 days are now rushing through the stockpile of documents after the primary period for National Assembly activity has ended. It is as if a delinquent student who has been skipping classes most of the term is suddenly demanding a cram course before the break.
The newly-proposed student loan package is designed to help financially struggling students earn university degrees on government loans without fear of having to pay the money back until they attain regular income after employment. The structure of this program is similar to that of American student loan plans that have helped many students from low-income families enter university and graduate.
The Korean population is stable in general, but many families still struggle to pay for their children’s college education. The proposed student loan program could benefit about 1.07 million college students and provide breathing room for their parents.
Such an urgent and necessary bill may have been jeopardized by political bickering. Politicians in this land are often too swept up in their own interests and those of their parties to pay attention and become blind to policy details and public needs.
With the gubernatorial elections ahead, the ruling party wants to hang on to the upper hand, while the opposition is fighting back in a frenzy with little regard to the pain and despair they are causing many students and their parents.
They scrambled to review the bill only after criticism mounted.
The chairman of the committee, who is an opposition party member, had refused a review. Now, he is demanding that lawmakers review the bill as early as possible ahead of the start of the new school year and blaming the government for delaying the bill. He even called on the government and the ruling party to stop trying to prevent the legalization of the bill before the school term starts. This hypocritical attempt to fool the public is ludicrous.
The ruling party also is not without faults, however.
It dominates the majority seat and yet has been idling away on urgent lawmaking duties. It blames the opposition camp, but what it really comes down to is a lack of passion and conviction for the legal proposals it incubated. When politicians care for the country and the people, they are not only saving their nation, they are saving themselves, too.
If they only pursue self-serving interests, they are jeopardizing both the country and themselves.
When U.S. President George H.W. Bush rolled up his sleeves to save American public education in the early 1990s, governors and members of Congress expressed bipartisan support.
Bipartisan collaboration is needed here as well to enhance the country’s public benefits and raise the political standard.
*The writer is an education professor at Chung-Ang University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Sung-ho