EVERY WEEKDAY, Yonsei students and professors have been convening over Zoom for classes—and despite the safety this medium provides, many are unhappy with the arrangements. As the administration extends online lecture periods under continued threat of COVID-19, dissatisfied students are calling for a refund in tuition. Yet, even though the students’ indignation is understandable and deserved, it seems unlikely that administration will field their requests.
Debate over class quality
With many professors claiming to have put more effort into their online classes than their physical ones, students have noted that some classes proceeded more smoothly than they expected. For instance, small group discussions were maintained through separate chats professors could check in on, which, excepting the awkwardness of having to constantly stare straight at others’ faces, tended to go quite well.
However, this does not appear to be the case for everyone as students clamor for a partial refund on tuition based on poor class quality. Many students have complained that, in addition to their classes ending much earlier than their designated class time, they are being bombarded with assignments as professors try to make up for the reduced quality and time of classes. Although it is school regulation to check attendance through assignments or through real-time classes using Zoom, the increase in assignments have raised complaints from students who argue that they have been unable to dedicate enough time for other activities. A literature major student, whose major electives are usually discussion-based, revealed that all her professors now preferred to record lectures. “I’ve never even seen or talked to my classmates or professor for this entire semester,” she said. “All we do is read the prepared content and post on YSCEC. That’s it.” Other students’ classes rely purely on written lecture notes that have been unsatisfying for the students and hard work for the professors. Moreover, all classes that usually rely on practical laboratory work or physical sports lessons have suffered from the limits of online classes. Based on such anecdotes, we can safely say the quality controls enacted for online classes have been unsatisfactory for many students.
Response from the university
Perhaps the main factor for the students’ petitions for a partial refund are the economic setbacks that the Korean economy has been suffering due to COVID-19. Not only has it affected their university lives and career plans, numerous students have lost their part-time jobs as the service sector receives fewer customers in social distancing; most of all, their providers and parents have not escaped the economic strain from the virus. For those students, even a partial refund would make a difference.
In response to such setbacks, according to the Yonsei Chunchu, schools in Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do have returned ₩100,000-200,000 to its students as a scholarship to support costs of living. The only other prominent case of tuition refund that I have heard of is New York University, who claimed they would refund only what would have been expended for class supplies and equipment.
Meanwhile, Yonsei has extended the add-drop period and the time in which students can go on leave for this semester. However, these actions do not address the source of students’ complaints, and instead potentially hint at the university’s unwillingness to directly address the issue of disparate and unsatisfying class quality. Though many students have considered it in the face of dissatisfying classes, taking the semester off is a pivotal decision for students fighting to enter Korea’s hectic job market, which has become even more cutthroat due to COVID-19. Even though the school has responded to these concerns by deciding not to count Spring 2020 in the number of semesters allotted for a leave of absence, many students have had their lives and career plans derailed. Measures taken by the school have yet to solve the matter at hand.
Despite such protests, Yonsei announced that they will not be enacting a partial refund. Yonsei, as well as other universities, is suffering financially from the virus due to adversely affected investments and projects. The Office of Academic Affairs has also reported additional costs from expanding school servers and networks to improve the quality of online classes, lending computers, and paying digital teaching assistants*. Upon talk between admin and council on April 7th, Choi Seok-myung, head of the budget team in Yonsei’s Office of Planning and Management, claimed that Yonsei is continually incurring additional costs in responding to COVID-19, making it difficult to issue a comprehensive report. Choi continued that the school will be able to share reports at the end of the problems caused by the pandemic.
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Yonsei students pay an expensive tuition for a quality education that prepares them for their future. However, while some classes have been more efficient online, classes that involve physical work have been suffering under these new conditions. Despite the university’s valid reasons for refusing a partial refund of their tuition, many students are not getting the quality education they were promised. To rectify the problem, the administration should give this issue further consideration and offer everyone a fair compromise.