Spending tuition the right way

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Spending tuition the right way

Korean universities run on the tuition they collect from students. Donations and state subsidies make up only a paltry share, so students are rightfully entitled to get their money’s worth in education in a good environment. They also have the right to know how their money is spent, and universities must oblige students’ demands.

A local court last month ordered the University of Suwon to return some of the cash funds it had stacked up rather than spending it on its students. The court ordered the university foundation to return 300,000 won ($274.50) to 900,000 won to 50 students who filed a damages suit against the college and demanded refunds.

The court ruled that the school had amassed money on the pretext that it would set up a new building, forcing students to attend labs in a poor environment that is not worth the financial value.

As of 2014, the University of Suwon had reserves of 336.7 billion won, the fourth-largest among private four-year universities. Lab training fees took up just 0.88 percent of their tuition and student support just 0.22 percent, meaning the school had amassed funds at the expense of student education and the environment.

The court ruling favoring student rights had a ripple effect. Students at 10 universities, including Kyung Hee University and Ewha Women’s University, held a press conference demanding their schools stop stockpiling cash reserves and threatened to take collective legal action to force school officials to improve the educational environment.

The universities were startled by the students’ actions, arguing that they had to set aside reserves just in case. They also complained that savings were diminished due to a freeze in tuition fees. Their rationale, however, may not be credible. According to the Korea Higher Education Research Institute, cash reserves at private universities exceeded 8 trillion won in 2013. The amount increased by more than 1 trillion won, even after universities were banned from increasing tuition in 2009.

To be credible, universities must transparently disclose tuition revenue and spending details. They must also be thoroughly audited so to prevent wasteful legal battles.

It is the students who own the universities, not the lecturers or the foundation. Budgeting and financing must be overhauled so students’ money is spent strictly on them. JoongAng Ilbo, May 8, Page 34

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