Tuition plan in disarray

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Tuition plan in disarray

The ruling Grand National Party’s efforts to lower college tuition are again in disarray. The party yesterday announced a plan to reduce students’ financial burden a month after floor leader Hwang Woo-yea abruptly raised the “half-priced tuition” issue without consulting anyone.

The political hot potato triggered massive candlelight demonstrations by college students calling on the government to address the issue. But this time, too, the GNP has further fanned the conflict between the party and the Blue House. We are deeply concerned about whether the party can present a realistic and rational solution to the problem.

The GNP’s solution primarily depends on government funding in the amount of 6.8 trillion won ($6.3 billion) and university scholarships amounting to 1.5 trillion won by 2014 to cut tuition by more than 30 percent. The problem is that the party skipped the critical question of how to secure the funds without consulting the executive branch. Immediately after the party’s announcement, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance tried to settle the matter by holding a news conference in which it said: “We are consulting with the administration but have not yet reached an agreement.”

Putting government funds toward reducing tuition fees requires a great deal of deliberation on the size of support and allocation of funds. It needs, above all, the understanding and consent of the public. Yet the GNP’s behavior is disappointing. We don’t want to believe that the party hurriedly announced its plan ahead of President Lee Myung-bak’s June 27 meeting with opposition leader Sohn Hak-kyu, fearing the meeting could produce some agreement on the tuition issue.

The GNP must immediately embark on a full consultation with the administration instead of trying to stick to its announced plan. Though our government’s higher education budget is only about half that of OECD countries, we should determine whether spending that much money is appropriate, not to mention how to finance such a plan. It would be fatal for the party to divert tax money away from funds for elementary, middle and high schools. The government should also urge universities to make their own efforts to resolve the matter by amending the private school law so they can’t accumulate too much money for their own purposes. It must also determine whether universities are using government subsidies properly. The financial support should not also be used as a means to perpetuate insolvent universities.

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