Full-pension paying colleges asked to return funds

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Full-pension paying colleges asked to return funds

The colleges who were caught unlawfully paying their staff members’ pension payments came under attack as university students and civic groups pressured them to pay back the payments.

The call from the schools has grown louder after 44 colleges were found to have mostly tapped students’ tuition fees to pay 208 billion won ($181.6 million) in support of their personnel.

Despite the public outcry, the Ministry of Education first refrained from revealing the list of the schools, but later divulged the names last Friday in the face of growing criticism.

The roster includes the country’s leading higher education institutions such as Yonsei, Hanyang and Korea universities. Yonsei paid the highest amount of money at 52.4 billion won, followed by Ajou and Hanyang Universities.

Traditionally, a company pays a matching 50 percent of an employee’s total pension payments, but in this case the colleges were paying the entire amount.

Among the listed schools, Dongguk University was the only institution that expressed willingness to restore the 1.4 billion won it spent covering the pension fees.

“We regret causing controversy by using students’ tuition in an inappropriate manner,” said Jang Ho-seong, president of Dongguk University.

But the other schools didn’t follow suit, prompting student unions to call for the return of the misappropriated money.

“We will size up the situation first and later request compensation or other measures to restore the money,” said Koh Eun-chan, the president of a student council at Yonsei University.

A parents association called Haksamo issued a statement last week, calling on the schools to pay back part of the tuition fees.

“The schools and staff members unfairly took advantage of the college tuition fees that were collected by hard-working parents and students,” the organization said through the statement.

The Yonsei school officials said that students’ tuition fees accounted for less than reported.

“Only 27 billion won out of 52.4 billion won came from tuition fees,” said Han Jeong-ho, an official at Yonsei University.

But the corrective measure did little to appease a public struggling to afford high college tuition fees.

The Education Ministry only ordered schools to stop making the pension payments and issued a warning, but declined to suggest they pay the money back.

President Park Geun-hye also echoed the demand, saying on Monday that “The future regulation or follow-up measure should be in line with the sentiment of the public, rather than the schools.”

“The essence of a reform is to do away with various irregularities. Even if the practice is deeply-engrained, we should change it to represent the public’s perspective,” she said.

The school faculties at the listed schools did some soul-searching. Twenty-three institutions stated in a collective agreement with the labor union that they will cover their employees’ pension payments.

BY PARK EUN-JEE, SUNG SI-YOON [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]
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