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Universities in dilemma over tuition hikes.

Universities have had a dilemma over whether or not to hike tuition for the upcoming 2018 semester, which begins on March 2.

The universities have refrained from charging students more in recent years under mounting government pressure designed to keep education costs low for students and their parents.

This year will likely be no different from past years as the education ministry vows to penalize universities that refuse to follow its policy by not raising tuition fees.

But most universities say they need to charge more as it has become more expensive to provide quality education amid rising labor costs and other operational expenses. They also argue they should get more money to expand academic programs and offer scholarships to students from low-income families.

Some universities have initiated ad-hoc committees to determine 2018 tuition, while others plan to start discussions on tuition in the coming days.

"Without the tuition hikes, most schools are in a difficult state as there are fixed bills to pay and no room to invest in research and other activities," said a spokesman at a private university in Seoul, who declined to be named. "How many colleges have money to spare? In our case, we don't."

An official at another university in Seoul said it desperately needs to collect more from students to cope with rising expenses amid declining revenues.

"Every year there is inflation but our tuition remains unchanged. It has the same effect as if our total budget depreciated each year," a school official said. "That has been ongoing for seven years, so of course, we have difficulty in managing our university."

However, the education ministry remains firm, saying it will not allow any universities to raise tuition this year.

The tuition hike ceiling for this year is set at 1.8 percent. Nonetheless, the ministry pledges not to permit schools to increase students' education expenses.

Academic institutions seek to be eligible for receiving the "type 2" state scholarship, which amounts to up to 1.7 billion won annually.

"Under the law, schools can hike tuition by as much as 1.8 percent in 2018 from last year," an official at the Ministry of Education said. "But to receive the type 2 state scholarships and other financial support from the government, tuition needs to remain unchanged or go down."

The Korean law of higher education prohibits colleges from raising tuition more than 1.5 times the average increase in consumer prices during the three preceding years.

The measure was put in place in 2011 as part of government's ongoing efforts to curb the cost of higher education that has burdened students.

For six consecutive years, the tuition hike ceiling has gradually dropped, from 5 percent in 2012 to 1.5 percent in 2017.

This year, however the tuition hike ceiling has been set at 1.8 percent, an increase of 0.3 percent from the previous year.

Any college that exceeds the measure may face administrative and financial penalties from the government.

In 2015 Ewha Womans University was at the center of scrutiny when it was the first to reveal its plans for a tuition hike of 2.4 percent. The university ended up reversing its original plan and freezing its tuition for the year.

Policymakers have been putting pressure on local colleges as they believe college tuition hikes will reduce the effect of state scholarships given to students.

The ministry official said for the past several years the government has provided financial aid to institutions that decided to lower or freeze their tuition.
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Date:Jan 5, 2018
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