As of August 2, 30 public and 50 private universities in the country have said they will provide refunds which will take the form of a “special scholarship” for students next semester.

“Students majoring in science or arts… insisted that online classes are meaningless for them”

The measures will also be extended to international students, of which in 2017 South Korea reported hosting almost 124,000.

“Since universities stopped face-to-face classes, replaced them with online classes, and cancelled the events including freshmen orientation, or graduation ceremony, students have demanded reimbursement of tuition fees,” explained a KCUE spokesperson.

“Especially, students majoring in science or arts, which require face-to-face lessons from professors, insisted that online classes are meaningless for them.”

South Korea’s students are hardly alone in their desire to recoup what they feel is wasted money, especially as students struggle to find part-time work for the summer.

Lawsuits are being brought against institutions in multiple countries, and one law firm in the US now has an entire website dedicated specifically to Covid-19-related claims against universities.

However, few countries have seen significant refunds or support for students, particularly international ones, while some universities are themselves calling to receive their own financial support from governments.

In the case of South Korea, the Ministry of Education has pledged financial support to universities who agree to partial refunds and have reserve funds of less than 100 billion KRW (£64,000).

While the apparent victory for students in South Korea may provide hope for similar actions across the globe, World Education Services’ managing director Canada and deputy executive director, Shamira Madhany, cautioned that arguments over tuition are more complicated than at first glance.

Discussing increases in international student tuition in Canada, she pointed to the case of Ontario where institutions receive no funding for international students and are already bracing for lower enrolment than in previous years.

With many of these arguments, demands for refunds hinge around online learning not being value for money.

Madhany highlighted the difficulty of determining whether an online course – or indeed any course – is “value for money”, particularly for students in the short-term and when considering the different approach to teaching required for online education.

“Teaching online isn’t taking your curriculum and putting it on Zoom. You have to be interactive, you have to provide assignments,” she said.

“I don’t know where we will end up in terms of whether the courts will entertain this, or what courts would decide in terms of value for money, because how do you assess it?”

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