The Ministry of Education and Korea’s universities are currently embroiled in a battle over the employment rules of contracted instructors. A controversial new lecture law took effect on August 1st that requires universities to increase the wages of contracted lecturers and provide greater job security for them in the process. As a result of the increased expenses, universities have had to let go many of their staff, making it difficult for students to register for lectures as fewer classes are being offered. While the dispute continues, students are bearing the brunt of this confrontation between the Ministry of Education and the nation’s universities.
|▲ A painting that received dismissal noticefrom a university despite the enactment of the Instructor Law. (Photo from: JoseonMedia)|
The Lecturer law was established to improve the employment conditions of contract lecturers. This bill was revised in 2010 when a contracted lecturer at a university took his own life because he was pessimistic about his employment conditions. The law requires universities to change the status of contracted university teachers to lecturers and for those employed by the university for more than a year to earn a three-year reappointment. The Ministry of Education has called for the support of universities, claiming that the new law provides necessary protection for the rights of contracted lecturers. In addition, they offered financial support to cover the increased fees universities will be required to pay these lecturers.
The revised "Instructor Act" took effect this summer and aimed to create an environment where contracted teachers are awarded lecturer status thereby eliminating job discrimination, forcing universities to pay wages during vacation periods and to provide a guaranteed period of employment of more than one year. These changes are noteworthy in that they help alleviate the imbalance in treatment between instructors and create a more stable educational environment. They also help students by allowing them to take quality classes prepared by experienced instructors.
However, the current Instructor law is causing many concerns. The first reason was a "massive dismissal of contracted lecturers". According to an Education Ministry report, the number of lecturers fired during the first semester of this year was about 7,834, as compared to 4,424 at the same time last year. This indicates that universities, which are expected to spend a large amount of money to implement the changes, are discharging many lecturers to reduce the risk of going over budget. Second, there is a lack of funding support forthcoming from the government to implement the new plans. The Instructor Act requires universities to maintain wages, severance pay, and a three-year guarantee of reappointment for their contracted instructors. The projected additional costs required for this year alone is about 296.5 billion won. However, the budget secured by the Education Ministry is a mere 28.8 billion won. Third, students are being impacted by the reduction in classes on offer and the corresponding consolidation of lectures. More specifically, students are only offered introductory ideas to subjects because they are able to spend only one semester on various topics. This leads to the development of shallow knowledge rather than more in-depth coverage of a topic. In addition, no matter how good a speaker or lecturer is, large class sizes are difficult to manage for both teachers and students. If the average number of students is around 20, they can communicate actively with the professor. However, if class sizes are between 40 and 50, it is difficult for them to interact with the professor. As such, the number of students in a class is directly connected to the quality of lectures.
To learn more about the realities of implementing the new Instructor law, The Dankook Herald (The DKH) interviewed Moon Jae-ho, a part-time instructor at Soong Sill University.
Q. Have you ever been discriminated against as compared with the full time teaching staff?
A. Yes. Even though I have a one-year contract, the university will not pay me when I am not teaching, such as during vacation periods. Also, the university has not offered any of the four major insurances or severance pay.
Q. Have you felt any changes from the enactment of the Instructor Law?
A. I think it has led to a reduction in the amount of courses which has changed the teaching environment.
Q. Do you have any colleagues that are at risk due to the implementation of the Instructor Law?
A. Yes, I think reducing the number of courses on offer will be a problem.
Q. Since the implementation of the Instructor Law, does the goal of teacher protection seem to be working well?
A. If the law is enforced, it will protect part-time instructors from discrimination.
Q. Do you think the current Instructor Law needs to be modified?
A. I think the objective standards need to be drawn up for the hiring of instructors.
The DKH interviewed Dankookians (students of DKU), Moon Hee-won (freshman, Dept. of Environmental Resources Economics), Kim You-jin (freshman, Dept. of Instrumental Music), Sin Da-eun (freshman, Dept. of Public Administration), Pae Yu-ra (freshman, Dept. of Food Engineering) to see if they believed the new law was being applied well at DKU.
Q. Do you know if the instructor law went into effect this semester?
A. All the Dankookians replied, “No.”
Q. Do you think Part-Time Instructor Act is working well in our school?
A. Most of the Dankookians replied, “I don’t know.”
Q Have you ever experienced any confusion or inconvenience in your school life due to the implementation of the Instructor Law?
A. Most of the Dankookians replied, “It was inconvenient because the professor teaching the subject was not updated, even though the class was open.”
Q Do you think the current Instructor Law needs to be improved? If so, which direction do you think needs to be modified?
A. All of the Dankookians replied, “I didn’t know about it. Please promote what the school is doing and what the impact will be on the students."
As the Instructor Act has been an issue since 2011, various efforts have been made to find solutions. Discussions regarding the current Instructor Act can be divided into three opinions. Some people think that we can improve the problems faced by part-time instructors by implementing the new Act. Others believe a moratorium on the implementation of the Instructor Act should be put in place so that all parties can work together to prepare and implement alternatives to foreseeable problems. The remaining group of people prefers to start from scratch and create a new form of instructor legislation. It is clear that a solution that is acceptable to all parties does not exist. The new law is an issue that should be addressed extensively in the education sector, starting with the problem of the teacher's work environment and leading to the problem of the classroom environment for students. An acceptable instructor law should be created in the interests of both the school and the students, going beyond the notion that the teachers' position should be considered.
|▲ Time Lecturers are protesting for theirrights (Photo from: edaily.co.kr)|
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