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Law protecting part-time lecturers backfires

Apr 13,2019
A revision to the Higher Education Act aimed at protecting part-time lecturers at universities ended up hurting the people it was supposed to protect, as at least 15,000 lecturers lost their jobs over the past year.

Instead of paying extra to retain the lecturers, colleges chose to fire them.

The Higher Education Act was revised in 2011 to include part-time lecturers and protect their rights by acknowledging them as faculty, guaranteeing their employment for one year, paying them during winter and summer vacations and subscribing them to the four national insurance programs - the national pension, health insurance, industrial accident compensation fund and employment insurance.

Due to protests by universities, the revised act was not immediately enforced, but it will go into effect in August this year.

“The number of lecturers decreased by 15,000 to 16,000 over the past year,” said a spokesperson of the Korean Irregular Professors Union. The total number of part-time lecturers at universities was 76,164 in April 2018.

Recently, the number of part-time lecturers at Daegu University decreased from 390 last year to 203 this year. Yeungnam University also had to let go of 130 lecturers. The university’s lecturer union went on strike earlier this year, which resulted in university officials agreeing to cooperate with part-time lecturers so that the revised Higher Education Law can go into effect without firings.

Universities are also cutting costs by reducing their class offering. A private university in Seoul increased the minimum number of students per class from 10 to 15 this year. The reduction in the number of part-time lecturers is also inevitably leading to a decrease in the number of lectures that universities can offer. The number of Korea University’s selective liberal arts classes decreased from 302 in 2018 to 280 this year.

“I used to have to scroll several times on my computer to check classes from the school’s website,” said Jung Kyung-dae, a junior at Korea University. “But this year, I didn’t need to do that.”

The university’s media department offers seven fewer classes compared to last year. This means the number of students attending these classes will increase. The university also decided to cut costs by giving classes to visiting professors instead of part-time lecturers.

“Other than Pusan University, I have also gone to lecture at Inje University,” said Yang Chang-ah, a part-time lecturer at Pusan University. “I learned that the university was giving classes taught by temporary lecturers to full-time lecturers to reorganize the university system. People who get fired this way live off of unemployment benefits.”

Giving lectures from part-time lecturers to adjunct professors is becoming more common. Adjunct professors are people who already have full-time jobs and give lectures in their free time.

One university in the Seoul metropolitan area appoints part-time lecturers as adjunct professors if they submit a certificate of individual business registration. Adjunct professors are not required to be protected by the four insurance programs, which makes them cheaper to retain.

The Higher Education Act was revised in 2011 after a lecturer at Chosun University in Gwangju committed suicide in 2010. In his will, he exposed injustices within the university’s system, accusing it of taking advantage of part-time lecturers and demanding money in order to be appointed as a professor.

The law protects the unstable position of these lecturers and acknowledges them as faculty, but due to the protests by universities, the implementation of the law was postponed four times since 2011.

The National Assembly Budget Office announced that an additional budget of 280.5 billion won ($247 million) to 301.5 billion won is needed to implement the law. The Ministry of Education has acquired 28.8 billion won for this year, which is just a tenth of the money needed.

“We have already acquired next year’s budget, and the [28.8 billion won] budget is for the period of August to December of this year,” said Kim Kyu-tae, the head of the Higher Education Policy Office of the Ministry of Education. “We are still monitoring whether the number of lecturers has actually decreased since [it was announced when] the law will take effect, but the Korean Irregular Professors Union’s argument that 15,000 lecturers are out on the street is not true. This is because the number counts several classes that were taught by one former lecturer. We see the decrease in the number of lectures as a drop in educational quality, and will include indicators, such as the number of lectures, into our financial support.”

The Ministry of Education has not yet decided how to distribute the 28.8 billion won budget for this year.

BY JUNG MYUNG-SUK, KIM HONG-JUN AND JEONG MI-RI [jung.myungsuk@joongang.co.kr]