South Korean universities
Konkuk University in Seoul was the first to offer tuition fee refunds to students back in June. Source: Shutterstock

The Korean Council for University Education (KCUE) has announced that almost 40% of South Korean universities will partially refund tuition fees. This includes 30 public and 50 private institutions.

All university students who have experienced course interruptions during the COVID-19 outbreak will be compensated, including international students. According to the National Institute for International Education, the country had 123,850 international students as of April 2017.

“Students have demanded reimbursement”

A KCUE spokesperson explained this partial refund as the result of student demand. Science and art majors requiring face-to-face lessons “insisted that online classes are meaningless for them”.

“Since universities stopped face-to-face classes, replaced them with online classes, and cancelled the events including freshmen orientation, or graduation ceremony, students have demanded reimbursement of tuition fees,” said the spokesperson.

A survey found that 99.2% of students in South Korea want tuition fee refunds for spring semester tuition. South Korean universities are not the first in the world to refund tuition fees, but they may be the largest group of institutions to reach a consensus so far.

Students in South Korea have been demanding fee refunds after going through “substandard” online classes. Source: Jung Yeon-je/AFP

The move that inspired state action

In June, Konkuk University in Seoul became the first major private university to promise an 8.3% tuition fee refund after students reported “substandard” online classes.

After discussions with the student council, university officials agreed to provide fall scholarships to those who completed the spring semester. This move will effectively reduce tuition fees for some 15,000 students in the upcoming September semester.

Konkuk University’s landmark decision sent a shockwave through South Korea’s higher education landscape. In fact, it prompted KCUE to review student subsidy via the state-funded Innovation Support Fund as a COVID-19 support measure.

On top of that, it led Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun to order the education ministry to look into fee refunds. The ministry has since offered financial support to institutions with reserve funds of under 100 billion Korean won if they reduce or refund fees.

South Korean institutions prioritise health and safety procedures during COVID-19. Source: Ed Jones/AFP

More South Korean universities follow suit

By July, more institutions had followed Konkuk University’s footsteps.

According to The Korea Herald, The National Korea Maritime & Ocean University in Busan announced 10% refunds for the spring semester. Pusan National University and Pukyong National University are following suit.

Private universities such as Dong-Eui University and Tongmyong University are offering “special scholarships” worth KRW100,000. Besides that, Daegu University paid 17,000 students KRW100,000 each and is set to refund up to KRW430,000 more in the fall semester.

University action was accelerated when a student advocacy group filed a class-action lawsuit against the Ministry of Education and schools in early July.

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