The issue of how to cut college tuition fees dominated the legislative session Wednesday as rival parties were divided over to what extent to implement a cut that would require an enormous budget.
High college tuition fees have been considered a cause of long-term debts for many graduates in a country that ranks second on a list of nations with the highest average college tuitions, after the United States, as shown in a 2009 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report.
The debate over costly tuition fees came to the fore after the new floor leader of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) recently unveiled a plan to push for what is dubbed a "half-priced college tuition" policy as part of a package of welfare measures aimed at wooing back voters ahead of next year's major elections.
Though the move drew some criticism from within the party for following the agenda set by the opposition, there appears to be a widespread consensus between rival parties at least on the need for curbing tuition fees.
At issue is how to secure the budget and to whom to offer the benefit.
"If the government has a strong willingness to put into practice the half-priced college tuition fee policy, it can win funding," Rep. You Jung-hyun of the GNP said.
Some worried that providing financial support equally for all colleges could hamper the government's ongoing efforts to kick out the uncompetitive institutions from the nation's bloated higher education sector.
The education ministry last year singled out 30 poorly performing colleges and universities nationwide to put them under various disadvantages, including a slash in student loan funding, to pressure them to voluntarily leave the market.
"It is inevitable to restructure colleges that have sprang up since 1996," GNP legislator Park Young-ah said.
"The government funding for college tuitions should never become a source of revenue for uncompetitive universities."
The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) said it will revise its original plan to expand the scope of benefits for low-income families to the middle class and prepare comprehensive measures that can take effect from the next year.
Hundreds of college students, parents and activists have been holding candlelight vigils in downtown Seoul in the past 10 days, also joined by some opposition lawmakers and celebrities.
The wave of protests is likely to reach a peak later this week as student bodies of about 400 universities nationwide have vowed to go on a joint strike on Friday afternoon and take to streets to call on the government to drag down the expensive education costs.