The number of four-year universities charging annual tuition fee over W8 million increased from 34 in 2010 to 50 this year (US$1=W1,069). Tuition at public universities rose 0.6 percent over the last year to W4.43 million, and at private universities it was up 2.29 percent to W7.69 million. Korea University's medical school charges a hefty W12.80 million.
But with 40 percent of the country's 16.7 million salaried workers earning only W1-2million a month, how many among the 3.5 million students can afford to pay such enormous fees?
Universities in Korea have raised their fees by 5 to 10 percent every year over the last decade, except during the economic crisis. Per-capita tuition was W2.41 million at public universities and W4.79 million at private universities in 2001 and has risen 60 to 84 percent over the last 10 years.
According to OECD statistics, tuition fees in Korea are the second highest among member nations after the U.S. But despite soaring fees, the student-to-teacher ratio remains at 32.7, which is twice the OECD average, while dormitories can admit only 17.3 percent of students. Universities need to be able to house at least 25 percent of their students. Naturally students are wondering where all of their money is being spent.
The high fees are the result of universities’ strong dependence on them. Public universities draw 40 percent of their budget from tuition fees and private universities 65 percent. School foundations should be responsible for gathering donations and contributions and investing the school's assets to generate profits, but Korean universities have an old habit of buying up land that is not immediately needed and building memorial halls and auditoriums that cost tens of billions of won, tapping into tuitions to finance them. Many universities also appropriate fees to pay for medical insurance and pensions of their employees, which should be funded by the school foundation.
Many private universities overstate their budgets and then use the figures as reasons to hike fees, only to amass the increased revenues into their accounts and repeat the process the following year. One private university in Seoul apparently amassed W40-60 billion every year between 2004 to 2008. As of 2009, 149 private universities in Korea held W6.9 trillion. As long as this practice persists, it will be impossible to lower the tuition burden and we should stop hoping for progress in university education.