A fundamental solutionThe unfair treatment of part-time lecturers at public universities has long been a big conundrum for the country. Although they cover more than one-third of the lectures at these institutions, they still suffer from unfavorable treatment including employment insecurity, the absence of benefits such as health care, the lack of a pension and a lingering social stigma - despite the fact that most have master’s or doctoral degrees.
As a result, the legion of part-time lecturers, already numbering more than 70,000, has persistently demanded the abolition of the current system of “barbarous exploitation.” The National Human Rights Commission of Korea also stepped in, calling for improvements.
Yesterday the Presidential Committee on Social Cohesion came up with a plan to fix the problem, focusing on providing part-time lecturers with legal status, job security and better working conditions. It is a welcome move. Yet we cannot help but worry that this is a quick fix rather than a substantial solution.
First, even though they will be called “lecturers” instead of “part-time lecturers,” they still won’t get the salaries or pensions that full-time professors receive. And they will still be vulnerable to being fired arbitrarily, which is prohibited by law for full-time staff.
The bigger problem is the budget. The committee plans to raise the current hourly wage of these lecturers from 43,000 won ($38.45) to 80,000 won at national and public universities, while raising the research allowance from 5,000 won to 20,000 won per hour at private universities. To do that, over 70 billion won is needed, but if the government and the National Assembly disagree on the issue, it could all amount to nothing more than empty talk.
To address the problem, more fundamental changes are required. The first step is to increase the number of full-time teachers at universities nationwide.
The current proportion of full-time lecturers is only 78.7 percent for public universities and 68.3 percent for private universities.
The government should make an effort to increase the number of full-time staff members at these institutions while encouraging universities to do the same.
Meanwhile, we are confronting a larger problem with our ability to foster intelligent and employable students. If this problem is not fixed, the quality of our universities will erode.
We hope the government can come up with a realistic solution before it’s too late.