Cutting tuition not impossibleThe controversy over high university tuition fees must be resolved one way or another. Student protests against the world’s second-highest college education costs are gathering wider support. Yet the government and politicians are still at a loss on the direction to solve the problem.
Universities themselves should first take the initiative of shaving tuition. They could find a way by compensating for the fall in revenue through various austerity measures and organizational restructuring. By doing so, they would not only be helping students but they would be setting out on a path of self-sufficiency.
They must change the practice of hiking tuition fees by inflating budgets to boost their cash holdings. Some 100 private universities have stocked up cash reserves of a combined 811.7 billion won ($749.7 million). But little of the funds are spent on students, raising suspicions that universities are profiting out of student pockets. If they use the funds to lower tuition, a student can, on average, save 820,000 won for his or her education. Universities must also use the funds to invest in improving education standards and boost scholarship programs.
To save costs, they must overhaul the faculty. The cost of maintaining expensive professors is the main reason behind the rise in tuition fees. Permanent professors at 44 private universities earn over 100 million won a year on average. Professors with proven excellence in teaching and research deserve good pay. But the problem is that even low-quality professors see pay raises annually based on the number of years they have worked. Like a bureaucracy, their profession is safe regardless of their performance. The strict performance yardstick used by American universities should be employed here to evaluate lecturers.
Even nonlecturing faculty members earn over 100 million won by the time they retire, despite working for a shorter amount of time than those in the corporate sector.
The sabbatical year system for professors should also be revised. Many professors spend a regular year off for private research to vacation overseas. British universities do not pay professors during their sabbaticals. Universities in other advanced societies strictly evaluate the research work conducted during the sabbatical period.
But Suwon University, for example, streamlined its staff while maximizing efficiency through a reorganization. The government can provide supplemental support measures once universities do their part to reform.