Students seeking tuition refunds set to take legal action

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Students seeking tuition refunds set to take legal action

As Korean college students clamor for refunds of their tuition amid disrupted classes due to the coronavirus, a coalition of nationwide student councils said Wednesday it would begin taking steps toward legal action.

 
In the latest development of Korea’s grass roots tuition reimbursement movement, the National University Student Council Network said that the student councils of at least 29 universities have expressed their intent to partake in the network’s class action lawsuit, and that a meeting on the issue was pending for later this week.
 
Starting next week, the network said it would specifically begin fielding student plaintiffs from across the country.
 
Lee Hae-ji, a senior member of the network, said Wednesday that in a recent survey of 21,784 college students on whether they think a refund was necessary, 99.2 percent answered “yes.” Of those respondents, 82 percent cited the low quality of online learning materials they were given by their schools and professors to study at home as the main reason why they wanted to be reimbursed, while 78 percent replied they wanted a refund because they were unable to use various facilities on school campuses.
 
On Wednesday morning, a coalition of arts majors from 34 universities nationwide held a press conference in front of the Central Government Complex in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, demanding the Ministry of Education help them get their tuition back.
 
“I can’t believe I have to pay my school the entirety of my tuition when I can’t even freely ask my professors a question,” a 22-year-old college student surnamed Kim said at the press conference, without disclosing her full name.
 
A 25-year-old student who studies photography at a university in the Seoul metropolitan area — which includes Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi — said he was frustrated over having to prepare for his graduation photo exhibition with feedback from his professor over the phone.
 
The Education Ministry has yet to budge despite the angry complaints and has instead pawned off the responsibility of handling the mayhem to the universities.
 
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye said last month during a parliamentary meeting at the National Assembly that it was up to schools to decide whether to give their students’ tuition back.  
 
Universities, on their part, have mostly been reluctant to do so, citing lost profits from empty cafeterias, convenience stores and dormitories on their campuses. 
 
But as college students begin to take the case to court, some legal pundits believe they have a slim chance of actually winning. They cited that most universities make it their policy to only offer tuition refunds during times of “natural disasters,” and it's the schools that have the final say in deciding what’s deemed a natural disaster.
 
The Korean Bar Association further pointed out in a statement that it’s difficult to legally prove online classes are of lower quality than normal classes, a major part of the argument of the students seeking refunds.
 
BY KIM JI-A, LEE SUNG-EUN   [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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