Protecting part-time lecturersAccording to data from the Ministry of Education, the number of classes at 417 universities and colleges across the country decreased by 6,655 in the 2019 spring semester compared to one year ago.
Classes were axed ahead of the revised Higher Education Act that goes into effect in August. More classes are likely to be cut in the future as universities will have to do away with courses and merge subjects to save cost. As a result, over 30 percent to 40 percent of an estimated 76,000 part-time lecturers may be unable to find jobs starting in the fall semester. Campuses call the new law a massacre on part-time lecturers despite its original design to help them financially.
The law revised in 2011 requires one-year contract guarantee, salaries during breaks and state insurance coverage plus severance pay for temporary lecturers. The problem is that universities faced with smaller student numbers due to a thinning youth population and a state-enforced freeze on tuitions can hardly afford the spike in the hiring cost. The law was suspended four times, but was finally put into effect late last year. The government offered 28.8 billion won ($24.6 million) in subsidies, but that would hardly be a comfort.
As a result, universities have closed classes to reduce part-time hires and allocated more lectures to full-time professors. The law has stripped jobs for part-timers and narrowed class choices for students. Curriculums and academic diversity have suffered.
The law can bring about negative consequences, much like the government’s enforcement of job security for contract-based workers for a minimum of two years and rapid hikes in the minimum wage. Such laws can do more harm than good for the people they aim to help.
The government, education community, politicians and teachers must gather to find solutions before the damage worsens. The issue was raised by leaders of our society when they met with President Moon Jae-in last week at the Blue House. Impairment in higher education can seriously damage national strength.
JoongAng Sunday, May 4-5, Page 30