THE UNEMPLOYMENT crisis has been worsening, with about 41,000 people in their twenties remaining jobless in the first half of the year 2015. As such, finding jobs and reducing their unemployment period have become the top priorities of young people. Notably, many university students delay their graduation so that they would be able to get a job before they leave their safety zone, which is none other than the university itself. At Yonsei, of course, there are quite a number of students who are in their extra semester for this reason. Simultaneously preparing for employment and providing school fees required to postpone graduation, however, might be a little too tough on students who are about to enter the world of work.
The regulations behind graduation postponement
Based on the school website, hak-ki cho-gwa-ja literally refers to those students who have not fulfilled their graduation requirements after completing eight semesters of undergraduate studies. The term seems to be appropriate to some degree, since certain types of seniors intentionally take fewer credits in order to delay their graduation. On the other hand, there are also seniors who already have acquired all the required credits but are just postponing graduation. Therefore, the definition of the term fails to cover the latter type of senior students.
During their extra semester, seniors who have not completed all the graduation credits have to pay tuition fees according to the number of remaining credits. In such cases, they still have credits to complete for graduation so paying fees for their classes seems reasonable. The problem is, however, according to Article 51 of the school regulations formulated by Yonsei University, students who wish to delay their graduation must register at least one credit even if they have completed all the graduation requirements. Moreover, following the regulation on tuition of hak-ki cho-gwa-ja, if students take at least one credit, they also must pay one-sixth of the total tuition. Hence, in order just to postpone their graduation, seniors have to take at least one lecture and pay roughly more than
W590,000 in their extra semester. Compared to the tuition fee of the regular semester, which is about W110,000 per credit, the cost that seniors have to pay is far more expensive.
Moreover, Yonsei University has long been notorious for having one of the highest tuition fees in Korea. Therefore, it is not surprising that one-sixth of the total tuition that seniors must pay for their graduation postponement is also one of the highest. For instance, a student in Underwood International College (UIC) would have to pay at least
W1,144,000 per semester in order to postpone his or her graduation. Paying such a considerable amount of money to the university could be burdensome to Yonsei students after the expensive tuition fees they paid for eight semesters. Ultimately, the school regulation has trapped these students in a rough situation and charges them to stay as students.
Conflicting stances of the school and students
The students and school, however, seem to find it hard to narrow the gap in their disagreement about the fee regulation. Graduation is inevitable, but many students desire to stay enrolled at the university due to the unemployment crisis. This is because the longer students that have graduated remain unemployed, the lower companies tend to evaluate them. An anonymous student, surnamed Kim, who registered for two credits for his tenth semester said, “What I want is to maintain my enrollment in the university. Forcing students to register for unnecessary, extra lectures is very unfair.” Kim also added that, “Such a superior attitude of the university seems to tell us to buy enrollment at the school.” Besides, in order to succeed in gaining employment, students are required to have competitive spec*. Therefore, their extra semester already entails many other additional expenses such as test fees for TOEIC, SSAT and hag-won** costs. As such, additional high tuition fees are not affordable for some students.
Despite such inconveniences students are faced with, the school takes a strong stance defending the regulation about graduation postponement. Oh Seung-hoon (Deputy Chief, Student Support Team) indicated that, “It would be unfair if these students are able to use school facilities freely without paying any school fees. Considering such conditions, their level of tuition fees is not that bad.” Furthermore, according to Oh, in the past, students who fulfilled their graduation requirements had to graduate. However, since 2010, a regulation was made to improve the system, which now allows students to decide their graduation time. Oh added, “Now, students can choose whether to sign up for graduation or to turn in graduation postponement application. So they should be responsible for the decision if they choose to remain in the university.”
The road ahead
The number of students postponing their graduation increases each year, and this is not a problem restricted to Yonsei University. One solution is for the school to adopt a new system like the graduation certificate system, which requires students to submit English scores and graduation essays in order to graduate. Such a system has long been used in Yonsei Wonju Campus and many other colleges, including Chungang University. Many Yonseians seem to prefer the graduate certificate system to the current school regulation. “Although the system may not be a perfect solution, it would be good if our school compensates for such drawbacks and adopts it for the students,” said Kim. Likewise, the school should consider the students’ situation and seek to improve the status quo.
Furthermore, there should be more support from the government. The main reason why students have to postpone their graduation lies in the larger unemployment crisis facing society. As such, in September, Ahn Min-seok, a member of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, submitted a bill for an amendment to the higher education law. The amendment prohibits universities from imposing tuition on students who have postponed graduation to seek employment opportunities. If this amendment were applied, it would definitely lessen the financial burden for students. More moves like this should be made to support the students better. Moreover, one of the reasons why students decide to postpone graduation is due to the companies that prefer enrolled students to graduates. Such a social atmosphere should be changed and companies should resist showing prejudiced views against those applicants with an unemployment period after their graduation.
* * *
Postponing graduation is not only a concern for seniors, but of all the students. If the school regulation that makes students pay for postponement continues to remain, those who are currently in freshmen and sophomore years would soon face the same problem. The university should be a place that increases students’ educational enthusiasm and self-development. Therefore, it is necessary for Yonsei and the society to come up with more acceptable solutions to alleviate the burdens of students.
*Spec: An abbreviation for the term “specification”; a list of activities and certifications as evaluation factors for employment
**Hag-won: A term referring to private academic institute