As students of policy, KDI School cohort knows all too well the difficulties in getting access to opportuntities to speak to those with the power to make change. However, as part of Dean Jong-Il You’s ongoing efforts to connect with the student body, the Fall 2019 Dialogue with the Dean took place in the Lincoln Hall on Wednesday, November 6th and gave new Fall students the chance to talk directly with the head of KDI School.
The Dean began by expressing what he feels is the biggest drawback of his role: ‘the disadvantage of being Dean is that I can’t meet students in class’. He offered a welcome to the students from Korea and abroad, and introduced his role, acknowledging that although students may not see him often, confirming that he is working hard behind the scenes to improve and advance the quality of KDI School and the education it offers. He considers the Dialogues with student a key part of that aim.
Across the range of concerns aired by students, the main areas for improvement echoed amongst the Fall students centered on concerns about health insurance, scholarship stipends, and rules regarding overseas travels.
Regarding the health insurance, concerns around the pressure of making upfront payments for medical treatment was raised by one student. This concern was met by many nodding heads amongst the audience. The student acknowledged that the reimbursement system, while certainly helpful for students to receive medical care, still left a notable financial burden on students to pay upfront, particularly in the case of sudden illness where students may not have much of that month’s payment left. The Dean began his response by elaborating on the context of health insurance for foreigners in Korea in recent months. There was a recent bill passed that aimed to have all foreigners register for the Korean Public National Health Insurance. The Dean acknowledged that had this bill been applied, this would remove the issue of high upfront costs to students. However, the flipside would be that monthly payments would increase substantially. On this basis, the implementation of the bill was postponed, but the Dean encouraged students having trouble paying for medical treatment to discuss with school staff about alternative arrangements that may be available.
Another popular issue raised was that of stipends- is there scope for an increase in monthly scholarship payments? The Dean began with a light-hearted joke: ‘Our aim is to help you build character in Korea by having you endure some financial hardships’. Thankfully, the students laughed at this! Jokes aside, the Dean was keen to ensure that students knew his advocacy to the National Assembly and other scholarship benefactors regarding increases to the monthly stipends. He noted that despite his efforts, it may take some time to see the fruits of that advocacy materialise, and as such he called for patience and understanding from students in the meantime while he continued his lobbying.
The third major concern shared by students was about the freedom of students to travel overseas during semester. Using the Chuseok vacation as an example, one of the students lamented the rule that students should not travel overseas during semester, as she would have liked to travel to Japan or China during the week break from classes. She even went as far as to say she would happily forgo her scholarship payment for the time spent outside of the country. The Dean was quick to take the side of the student and question this rule, citing concerns about a possible infringement of students’ human rights, particularly the right to freedom of movement. The Dean pledged to investigate this rule as a matter of urgency and ensure that it is either consistent with human rights law or have the rule amended appropriately, such that students can exercise their right to movement freely.
The feedback and questions from students during the dialogues was cited as critical to informing the decision-making about current and future School programs, classes and services. Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs, Kwon Jung, thanked students for making the most of this precious opportunity to speak with the Dean and raise their concerns. It should also be noted that as each concern was respectfully raised, students lead their feedback with thanks to the Dean for the opportunity to study at KDI School and for the chance to help see it improve into the future.