Critics say a move by Grand National Party lawmakers including floor leader Hwang Woo-yea to halve university tuition fees and make up for the shortfall from state coffers is drawing criticism for keeping shoddy universities afloat and fattening private school foundations at taxpayers' expense. Experts say halving tuition fees would also lead to an explosive increase in the number of college graduates and worsen their employment prospects.
Some 82 percent of high school graduates in Korea already go to university, the highest rate in the OECD. In Europe, only about 40 percent of secondary school leavers go to university, in the U.S. 60 to 70 percent, and around 50 percent in Japan. But in Korea, more than 70 percent of students even at vocational schools go on to study in universities.
Experts believe the number of university students snowballed due to an explosive increase in the number of universities in the mid 1990s after the government slashed red tape. The number of university students rose more than 25 percent from 1.59 million in 1999 to 2.03 million in 2010.
But businesses did not expand the number of university-educated recruits. According to statistics by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, less than 50 percent of graduates at 148 out of 205 universities across the country found permanent jobs in 2009. This trend has prompted more and more university students to postpone graduating to avoid ending up jobless.