Demands for college tuition refunds get ministry’s ear

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Demands for college tuition refunds get ministry’s ear

The Ministry of Education said Tuesday it would look into growing calls from angry university students demanding tuition refunds, hinting at a possible intervention in a monthslong conflict that has plagued numerous college campuses across the nation.  
 
For months, college students have been clamoring for refunds amid disrupted classes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Most universities in Korea were supposed to start the school year on March 2, but they veered toward online classes as the coronavirus pandemic raged on, and asked students to come to school only in a few exceptional cases, such as for a test or a practical lesson.
 
Universities, for their part, have refused to offer any refunds, citing lost profits from empty cafeterias, convenience stores and dormitories on their campuses, and the absence of international students. Increased spending for online education infrastructure has also been frequently cited as a core reason why schools couldn’t offer to pay back.
 
Up until Tuesday's announcement, the Education Ministry had refused to intervene, saying college tuition is outside the purview of the government.  
 
It appears a recent remark from Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun nudged the ministry to step in.  
 
According to ministry officials with knowledge of the case, Chung met with a group of young adults last Thursday at his office in Seoul, during which a senior member of the National University Student Council Network, a coalition of nationwide student councils in Korea, complained about college tuition and how students should be reimbursed.  
 
Chung was said to have asked Education Ministry officials to look into the matter.
 
Vice Education Minister Park Baek-beom said Tuesday in a press conference that the ministry would "review various ways" to handle the situation, but clarified that the government wouldn't consider a "direct" intervention forcing universities to pay back their students. The issue, Park stressed, "is up to schools" to figure out, "not the Education Ministry."  
 
Park continued that the ministry will probably search for ways to help financially struggling universities, and that a more specific announcement on the issue will come at a later time.
 
Park’s remarks came a day after Konkuk University in Gwangjin District, eastern Seoul, said the school has reached an agreement with the student council to offer discounts to some 15,000 undergraduate students on the university’s Seoul campus next semester, becoming the first university in Korea to offer any sort of refund for canceled face-to-face classes.
 
The precise amount of the discounts will be finalized later this week, the university said.  
 
BY LEE SUNG-EUN, KIM SU-MIN   [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
 

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