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Student Union Fee Dispute

  When a new school year begins, paying student fees is repeatedly surrounded by controversy. A negative perception about the Student Union is rampant in students because of embezzlement and election fraud. Consequently, the hostility surrounding student fees has reached a boiling point.

 

The Beginning of the Student Fee Controvesy

  Freshmen have been informed that the Student Council will collect four years worth of student fees at a time from their respective faculty union. Based on four-year colleges, the Student Council has collected from ₩80,000 to ₩300,000 and has, in some departments, even asked for ₩500,000. So students have asked if there is a need to collect in a single installment an amount budgeted for four years at a time and why only the first grade is being targeted Meanwhlile, Campus Life Weekly surveyed 469 college student evaluators in 2012 and found that three out of ten (30.8%) answered, ‘I didn’t pay the Student Council fee.’ The biggest reason for nonpayment of the fee was ‘don’t know where to pay’ (60.4%). Also, 81.9% of the respondents said that they were unsatisfied about having to pay the Student Union fee. For that reason, 61.4% of the respondents say that they didn’t feel any consequent benefits and 33.8% say that the Union fee is being spent on their personal luxuries, such as entertainment expenses. 

Student Fee Operational Conditions

  Let’s first look at the Student Council fee (excepting the department union fee). It is found that in most colleges the student council fee is freely collected due to the automated fee payment system implemented at the recommendation of the the Ministry of Education in March 2013. But, as the number of non-fee paying students has increased, student unions are suffering from operational difficulties. So they provide selective welfare benefits to students experiencing financial difficulties. In the case of Chung Cheong University, non-fee paying students were divested of their right to vote. This resulted in 1,600 students (of the 4,900 total) not being able to vote. ‘Depriving people of their right to vote goes against the principles of a democratic society. Every student has the same rights,’ said the educational official. Meanwhile, the Student Council fee of INHA Univ amounts to 10,000 won and can be paid with the tuition fee. The fee is not obligatory and thus students can choose whether or not to pay automatically. There appears to be no discernible disadvantage to not paying this fee. 

 

  Paying the department student fee varies from a collection to operational method depending on the university and department. So, different cases were compared. First, installment vs at once. Chung-ang University Artistic Crafts implemented divided payments in 2013, since students complained about the high student fee and the collection method. Under this new system, the Student Council collects about 60% of the fee because many events are held in the first semester (the other 40% is collected in the second semester). Most departments in Inha University, meanwhile, implement an ‘all at once’ system. However, Mathematics education, English education students can pay the fee in installments. Especially, the Mathematics Department implements a combined sytem featuring ‘all at once’ and installment based payments, so students can pay according to thier circumstances. In the Business Management Department, no department student fee exists. That costs for this department are administered by the Student Council.

 

  Second, are refunds given to students who change their majors? Soongsil University has laid down a regulation concerning student fee refunds: students changing their majors, transfer students, and dropout students can get back their money for the 2016 academic year. Soongsil is currently the only university offering such a refund. However, in Inha University, almost every department offers a form of fee refund. In the case of the History, Philosophy, Chinese Language and Literature, Japanese Language and Literature Departments, however, the refunded money is transferred to the changed major account due to past abuse of the system. And in the case of the College of Engineering, changing one’s major normally results in students remaining in the College of Engineering, so the Student Council doesn’t refund by inter meetings result.

 

  Third, is budget spending transparent or not? Presently, 80% of the departments (81 in total) disclose their settlement of accounts at Kyungpook National University, either through a departmental general assembly or bulletin board. The remaining 20% is treated individually. At Inha, each department has its own procedure. Departments in the College of Liberal Arts hold a joint meeting of the treasurer, which is attended by university officials, the treasurer and the College Committee. After the budget has been audited, the results are posted to the board.

 

Complaints About Paying Student Fee

  There are four main reasons that result in discontent with the student fees. The first reason is a lack of transparent accounting and an non-comprehensive auditing system. In the University of Seoul, in the Management Department, union executive’s irregular activities are exposed. The chief of financial accounting diverted union fees. As students demanded that the details be made public, the Student Union president, who had asked students to tolerate the situation, didn’t apologize.  Periodical examinations of the accounts of 18 universities, in the capital territory, only really accounts for 10 universities, including our own, KonKuk Univ, KyungHee Univ, Seoul National Univ, and Hanyang, among others. The remaining universities simply post their budgets and settlement of accounts report on the Student Government hompage.

 

  The second reason is involuntary collection. A freshmen at ChungAng University accused the Student Union of asking for an unjust fee, 490,000won. This became a huge controversy because the Student Union threatened non-paying students with the removal of their locker privileges and the payment of a fine. However, the Union eventually reduced the fee and enacted divided payment so as to quell the controversy.

 

  The third reason is one-time high cost payments. Many Student Unions collect a four year fee in one payment. They know that, of course, high costs is too tax to cost at once. But they said that collecting cost only one year will struggle.

 

  The forth reason is transfer students and students changing their major worry about refunds of the fee as they have already paid for four years. A lot of Student Unions offer refunds if students demand their money back. If students do not demand their money back, a refund is usually not forthcoming.

 

  A controversy arose in our school, too. In the second semester of 2014, a comment was posted, to the university community, regarding the union fee collecting system. Student comments ranged from, ‘Student Union should enhance publicity about this problem and need a full debate’ to ‘Due to student’s money, the Department Student Union needs to disclose details clearly’. As a result, the board of governors held meetings to create solutions and invited each department student president and vice president most linked with the union fee. However, the proposal of an installment-based payment system was rejected by a vote of 8 to 3. Because if divided payment was implement, the Student Union would have to operate on a budget, same as the previous quarter, so the Student Union and student body remain divided on this conflict. In the case of INHA University, it is not disputed that department’s have uncertain budgets and spending reports. However, many students have questioned and asked for an alternative to the single payment system. Meanwhile, experts say that the cause of disputing the Student Union fee is not just because of the Student Union. A KHEI (Korea Higher Education Research Institute) official said, “Every student is interested in the Student Union and their performance. Through this process, a Student Union may build confidence.”

 

  Transparent accounting is the essential condition of a student council governed by students’ money. Start by making a report on closing accounts consistently and release details of use; indeed, now councils are being asked to restore trust.

이지은  dlwldms0014@gmail.com

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