Mayor Park’s weird tuition logic

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Mayor Park’s weird tuition logic

We are dumbfounded by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon’s latest remarks on college tuition. To a group of college students, he said, “Why don’t you begin a struggle to repeal college tuition completely after all those strenuous fights to lower them?” The statement in a lecture entitled “Qualifications of Leaders in the 21st Century” at a university quickly spread across cyberspace through social networking services.

His remarks are powerful enough to throw university students’ vociferous demand for halving tuition in the shade. Park cited exemplary welfare states in Europe - Sweden, Finland and Germany - to justify his argument. “In those countries, you don’t pay tuition at all. Even though we pay the same tax as theirs, why should we pay tuition when they don’t?” he asked.

Anyone would agree to a need to reduce ever increasing tuition. As revealed by the Board of Audit and Inspection’s latest study, our universities can cut tuition as long as they intensify transparency of accounting. But you cannot simply compare our situation with those other countries without taking into account some basic differences. According to the OECD, about 80 percent of investment in higher education is covered by the government in those countries, with the remaining 20 percent by the private sector. That is because, in those countries, most of the universities are national or public, with very few private institutions.

Of the 184 four-year colleges in Korea, however, only 31 are funded by the government. As a result, 86 percent of high school graduates must go to private universities next year, which originated from our historical background in which individuals had to fill the vacuum left by the state amid the ruins of the Korean War. That’s why private universities, which mostly rely on tuition to operate, account for a much larger share of college education than the government-run schools. Park’s claim that we pay the same tax as those countries is not accurate either. Our ratio of taxation against the GDP is only 20.7 percent, while Sweden’s figure is 34.8 percent.

Park has made populist remarks without considering such sharp discrepancies. What does he hope to gain by fanning the tuition fight and to whom does he want to pass the buck? He has already pledged to use Seoul citizens’ money to cut tuition for the University of Seoul, a city-funded school, whose tuition is already half of private universities’. Does it mean he is ready to finance even insolvent universities at the expense of the taxpayer?
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