A bad case of profligacy
The Korea Institute of Energy Technology, a tech academy of state utility Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), is scheduled to pitifully open in March with just one building. The president of the school and other faculty staff have rented a building nearby to work. The school dubbed as “the world’s first devoted to energy” is recruiting students from the March semester, but they will have to spend their four years in the university in a dusty and incomplete campus as full construction won’t be finished until 2025.
The opening is suspected to have been pushed to meet the March 9 presidential election. Former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said that the energy tech school was an important agenda of the Moon Jae-in administration and campaign promises by Moon and Lee when Lee served as South Jeolla governor. Various favoritism issues have arisen during the process of institutionalizing the establishment. Under Article 4 of the High Education Act, an academic body must be equipped with necessary facility for education. Yet the Ministry of Education endorsed the school in April 2020 when construction had yet to begin.
In March last year, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) railroaded the special act on the university. The law allowed the school to recruit students and open even if it does not have decent facilities. The review report by the National Assembly said the law is designed to speed up the opening as an exceptional case for a public institution establishing a university.
The cost has also been exceptional. The government or Kepco will spend 1.05 trillion won ($834 million) in the school through 2031 plus working capital of 564.1 billion won. The budget is atypically huge compared to a combined 1.2 trillion won earmarked for subsidizing 257 universities for their innovative projects.
Kepco is hardly in a position for such profligacy. Its debt ratio at 149.1 percent in 2017 will shoot up to 234.2 percent by 2024. The government has mandated Kepco to appropriate 3.7 percent of its earnings from electricity charges for the school’s operation.
Moon and the DP will share the glory ahead of the presidential election while the bill goes directly to the people. The government has pushed back a scheduled utility fee hike to the second quarter after the election. Let’s hope that the university does not end up like other public-set universities that were forced to merge due to financial problems.