University affordability and access has been a story of both success and setbacks in recent years. Strides have been made in taking the load off tuition for more students through merit based and family income scholarships at Dankook University (DKU).
In January, DKU adjusted the beneficiary ratio of merit based scholarships, given to students with an average GPA of over 3.5, and the Danwoo scholarship, given to students who have average GPA of over 3.0. The ratio was dropped by 1% from 2016 levels.
Students were angered by the decrease as it directly relates their welfare. According to the Student Affairs Team at the Jukjeon Campus, the school tilted the scales in favor of those who are in position of need of financial support, rather than those who earn it from their results. They explained “Contrary to the complaints raised by students, the school is not downsizing the amount of financial aid available to the student body, but rather re-directing it, to those in true financial need. We are considering the problems faced by low-income students, who are not super high achieving, and trying to encourage them to improve their school performance by ensuring financial support. Furthermore, based on this little adjustment, the school is making greater progress in our commitment to ‘needs-based scholarships’. In addition, if you look at numbers, DKU gave out 443,336,000 won more in income-based scholarships and spent 341,336,000 won less on merit based scholarships, which actually represents an overall increase in assistance to students by 102 million won.”
However, the student body saw problems with the way applicants were required to demonstrate their qualifications for receiving the tuition assistance. They must assemble a file of information that proves their need to qualify for an income-based scholarship. The Dankook Herald (DKH) conducted an interview with Kim Sung-hyun (PhD in General Education) about her views on Korea’s income based scholarship system, including the one in place at DKU.
She stated, “The solution to this kind of argument is in communication. We should all rethink our process of developing and implementing education policy. In Korea, people recognize scholarships and college education as something that is granted to someone selectively, such as someone that excels in school performance." However, she mentioned, there’s a need for ‘universal welfare’ in our school system, including at the university level. Since DKU decided to implement ‘universal welfare’ with the goal of increasing the amount of income based scholarships, it should think carefully about how they operate the system and boost student motivation to pursue better school performance through communication.
A year ago, Korea University discarded entirely their merit-based scholarships and implemented instead, a 'justice scholarship' intended to assist students with low incomes with full scholarships and an additional monthly 500,000 won. Research at Korea University shows this new school policy resulted in significant changes in the studying attitudes of low income students. Although some students argue that it is rather 'unfair' to the students who consistently perform well, the scholarship was meant to improve the overall study environment, and not simply represent a prize for top scoring students.
After studying and comparing the program at Korea University with that of DKU, it is clear there is room for improvement in our scholarship program. The DKH conducted research on how other countries operate scholarship programs in the hopes of finding some innovative inspiration.
In Germany, general education costs way less than it does in Korea, including a college education. One university in Bayern, Germany, requires tuition of approximately 750,000 won per semester. Comparing this to Korean universities, it is relatively cheap. The average university tuition per semester in Korea is over 6.6 million won, or one eighth of the fee charged in Bayern. Furthermore, their tuition covers welfare issues like housing, medical care and living expenses. Likewise, Germany has BAföG [ˈbaːfœk], a student loan program, mainly used to cover the living costs of students rather than educational expenses. Students, who apply for the loan and graduate, need to pay back half of the amount of the money borrowed once they have fixed earnings. Since World War Ⅱ, German society has believed it is their responsibility to look after education, so education expenses and part of student living costs, are covered by government.
In the case of Sweden, the government fully supports university tuition. The benefit is intended to ensure socio-economically deprived people are still able to attend college. The Swedish government has also considered the living costs of university students and instituted, since 1989, loans geared towards living expenses. The loans are based on the income of the student, not their parents, so students in a low-income group, do not need to be concerned about surviving their college life. As a result, a university education is considered a public good and a right that anyone can enjoy in Sweden.
Recently, voices urging schools and governments to increase financial support for all university students are growing in South Korea. According to 'Present Conditions and Implications of Tuition and Student Loans in University Systems' a research reported produced by The National Assembly Research Service, 81% of university students in South Korea are attending universities that aren't financially supported by the government, even though they are burdened by the world's highest tuition. The administration implemented a 'half-tuition policy' in order to ease the financial burden on students, but the policy is income based, and the scholarship system intensively aids students in low-income groups. Though most university students are finding it difficult to pay for tuition, many of them are being left out by the financial support policies in place.
Some students argued the method of calculating income is a problem. Miss. Kim (Senior, Dept. of Law) was interviewed by the DKH on the matter. She suggested that, "Even though parents have high-level incomes, students still feel tuition is a heavy burden for their parents to cover their expensive education costs, including university tuition. There are no students in Korea who aren’t facing the pressure of paying for tuition.” In the meantime, university education in South Korea verges on compulsory education with higher rates of college attendance. The education experiences are used to build one’s resume, but it comes at a huge cost which isn’t shared with government’ Instead, it falls solely on the shoulders of ordinary individuals. She added, "Giving more chances to lower-income groups through DKU’s ‘need-based scholarships’ and the 'half-tuition policy' is of course important. However, the process of determining qualification for this selective welfare income based scholarship system, is merely a superficial solution. Since all university students have trouble paying for extremely high tuition, I think the high cost of tuition is the problem that we should be addressing.”
Governments and schools are trying to find alternatives methods for supporting students who need financial aid, but being selective on those you choose to help is just a superficial solution. Students have been longing to see their government reconsider the educational welfare system. Education should be for anyone who wants it, and the responsibility with education expenses should be a shared burden on society. A policy of universal welfare of education will revitalize the environment of DKU. Making changes in the scholarship system is not enough. The school needs to set a goal of bringing about an improved universal welfare system. This will lead to a better society that can enjoy their rights to a solid education.
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