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Education Ministry snubs call to allow tuition fee hikes

South Korea’s Education Ministry reiterated last week its intention to continue curbs tuition fees for universities and colleges, despite calls by local universities to allow tuition hikes.

As part of President Park Geun-hye’s “half-price tuition” policy, the ministry has been pressuring universities to refrain from raising tuition fees.

Earlier this year, Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea visited Ehwa Womans University ― the first major institute to raise the tuition to the government-permitted limit of 2.4 percent ― after which the school abruptly said it would freeze the fees. According to the Korea Council of University Education, 174 of Korea’s 176 universities either froze or reduced their tuition fees for the first semester of 2015.

“The burden of tuition fees in Korea is still high for most people. As a minister, I feel hard-pressed to suggest we remove that curb (on tuition hike),” Hwang said during a seminar with heads of the country’s leading universities last Thursday. Hwang said Korean universities still relies heavily on tuition for their finances, with fees accounting for 62.6 percent of their budgets on average.

Instead of relying on tuition, Hwang said each university should look to make profits off their school funds, such as by starting their own businesses.

A total of 156 private universities in Korea received 379.1 billion won ($336.7 million) in donations in 2013, according to this year’s report by the Korea Higher Education Research Institute. This marked a 30 percent decrease from 2009, when they received 541.8 billion won.

In April, the government declared that the half-price tuition policy has been completed, with government and university scholarships covering roughly half the financial burdens. The announcement, however, faced criticism from students and experts who pointed out that the actual tuition remains unchanged and that only a limited number of students benefit from the policy.

By Yoon Min-sik (