Who Needs a Scholarship?
In 2016, Korea University abolished existing scholarships and created a new system called ‘Jeongui Scholarships’ (‘Jeongui’ means justice). The Jeongui Scholarship is a need-based scholarship system that exempts all low-income students from paying tuition fees and provides a monthly living allowance of 500,000 won. Recently, Sogang University has also announced to students that the old scholarship system will be abolished from the first semester of 2018 and that the new ‘Dasan Scholarship’ will be introduces to assist students from low-income backgrounds. With such universities starting to abolish academic scholarship systems in favor of supporting low-income students, let’s find out what it means to abolish the academic scholarship and how it will work in practice.
The Old Scholarship Systems of Korean Universities
The existing scholarship system of Korean universities is merit-based, thus rewards students for excellent academic achievement. Inha University still provides merit-based scholarships, but also has scholarships to support students from low-income backgrounds.
Inha university’s scholarships include merit-based scholarships not just for freshmen but for all enrolled students, under various names such as the ‘Jungseok Scholarship’ and the ‘Biryong Scholarship’. Enrolled students with a GPA of 4.0 or higher will be awarded with full tuition fee waivers or tuition fee reductions of 2/3 or 1/3, and may also receive a monthly grant to help cover living costs.
There are also scholarship systems for low-income students. Students who are in low-income brackets will receive a tuition fee waiver for their entrance semester. The ‘Inha Sarang Scholarship’ selects applicants from rural areas and provides them with a certain amount of financial support. For the lowest-income levels (recipients of national basic livelihood support), tuition fees are waived if the student achieves a GPA of 2.0 or higher in the previous semester.
The Start of Abolishing Merit-Based Scholarships
Most universities in Korea award scholarships to students who have achieved good grades. However, more recently, some universities have planned to abolish merit-based scholarships in order to expand support for low-income students.
In 2016, Korea University completely abolished merit-based scholarships for the first time in Korea, and created a new system called the ‘Jeongui Scholarship’. The ‘Jeongui Scholarship’ provides 100% tuition fee exemption for students whose income level is between 0th and 2th, in addition to basic living expenses of 500,000. This is a ‘need-based’ scholarship system, and was designed to help students whose studies may otherwise be disrupted by financial pressures.
One year after the abolition of the merit-based scholarship system at Korea University, the number of low-income scholarship recipients increased from 2,401 in the first semester to 3,339 in the second semester of 2015 as reorganization of the scholarship system took effect. In 2016, the number increased to 3,383 in the first semester, and was 3,299 in the second semester. In program-based scholarships, designed by the institution or by students themselves, low-income students between 0 and 2 levels have been actively applying, accounting for 23 percent of program-based scholarships. A representative of Korea University’s Student Support Department said, “In accordance with the abolition of academic scholarships, students attaining excellent academic grades will be provided with program-based scholarships as not to be disadvantaged or unrewarded for their achievements. Our aim is to provide personalized support for students to create their own visions by establishing a program for start-ups, research, and education.”
The overall scholarship budget has also expanded. As of 2016, the scholarship budget increased by 7% from the previous year, and the amount allocated to the Jeongui Scholarship, which accounts for 42.6% of the total scholarship budget, was 9.115 billion won, of which 8.8 billion won was awarded to low-income students. A year later, the Jeongui Scholarship is being evaluated as an alternative to improve the situation of low-income students who have in the past had to work excessively in part-time jobs to earn their tuition fees and as a result have been lacking the time to focus properly on their studies.
Sogang University also announced that they will abolish the merit-based scholarship from the first semester of 2018, and will allocate it fully to the ‘Dasan Scholarship’ to support students who have economic difficulties. Sogang University gave notice of this change on the 1st of October this year; a decision that has been made by the 192nd Scholarship Committee Meeting, which was held on 11th September. Sogang University found that 76 percent of the students who received academic scholarships last year were high-income students from levels 9 to 10. This means that students in the top 20% of income groups receive most of the academic scholarships. Only 7 students from the lowest-income levels received academic scholarships out of 331 total recipients, while students in the level 10 income band received more scholarship than any other income groups. However, if all scholarship budgets are assigned to the ‘Dasan Scholarship’, the number of students who will receive full financial support including the national scholarship will increase from 12.6% (0 to 3rd) to 18.2% (0 to 6th).
Other universities are not completely abolishing academic scholarships, but are reorganizing scholarships to increase support for low-income students. Hanyang University has raised the proportion of scholarships for low-income students from 30% to 40% in 2016. Ewha Womans University reorganized its scholarship system from 2015, by reallocated funds for the the ‘Excellent 2 Scholarship’, which paid a scholarship of 500,000 won to students with a grade of 3.75 or higher in a semester, to scholarships for low-income students.
Controversy Surrounding the Abolition of Academic Scholarships
Many universities are abolishing academic scholarships, but there’s a lot of resistance to it. One of the most common objections is the potential for unfairness in estimating income groups. Scholarships for low-income students, that have expanded since the abolition of academic scholarships, are based on the income levels estimated by the Korea Student Aid Foundation (KOSAF). However, there are many indications that KOSAF’s income evaluations are flawed, as they do not give consideration to complex variables such as parents’ income, wealth, debt levels, and ownership of vehicles. The results of the data analysis of ‘1st and 2nd semesters scholarship applicants’ income levels change status’ showed that estimated income levels could be different among the siblings of one family or that income levels could change drastically within just one semester. In the two years from 2015 to 2016, 11,588 students had different income levels between the first and second-semesters. In 2016, there were 39,354 siblings with different income levels.
As the confusion surrounding the evaluation of income levels has been repeated, the KOSAF changed its evaluation system from 2017, moving to an ‘absolute evaluation’ system which is linked to the data of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, with this system determining income level before students are allowed to apply for financial aid. Still, even since the changing of the evaluation system, income levels fluctuated greatly, as the number of students whose income levels differed from their first to second semester reached 370,000. The appeal system has received 53,541 cases since KOSAF introduced its system in 2015. KOSAF has admitted to errors, reevaluating more than half (61.8%) of the 33,077 cases and resulting in 4,992 students who were initially evaluated to be in the 9th and 10th bands to move into the 8th band or below, which subsequently qualified them for scholarships. The ‘Dasan Scholarship’, which Sogang University has proposed to expand, can only support students below the 8th levels according to the income-levels determined by KOSAF. Thus, there was opposition from students who were placed in higher-income bands than their actual financial situation.
The abolition of academic scholarships has helped to increase academic competition regardless of income level. The academic achievement of students who have received low-income scholarships has improved. Student Support Department of Inha said, they had never discussed the issue of abolishing the academic scholarships. However, educational opportunities for low-income students should be expanded in many more universities.
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