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Park woos young voters with promise of half-price tuition
SEOUL, Aug. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's leading presidential contender Park Geun-hye on Thursday stepped up her campaign to win the support of young voters ahead of December's presidential election, saying her ruling conservative party plans to slash college tuition fees by half.

   Park made the remarks during a meeting with leaders of college students' associations, as the 60-year-old female presidential candidate reached out to an electoral group that has generally been reserved about supporting her in the past.

   Asked by a student whether the pledge is part of the Saenuri Party's official election platform, she replied, "One could say it is the party's position. I will make sure it is realized."

  
Park Geun-hye speaks to students at a forum held at the National Assembly in Seoul on Aug. 23, 2012. (Yonhap)


South Korean students have repeatedly called for slashing tuition costs in recent decades. Last year, thousands of students and civic activists rallied in Seoul to call for government measures to curb soaring tuition fees.

   In February, South Korean universities cut annual tuition by an average of 4.5 percent for the academic year, according to the education ministry. The average tuition fee across 186 universities is 6.7 million won (US$5,930), down 4.48 percent from last year's average.

   It was the first time the country's universities lowered their tuition after South Korea came into being in 1948.

   Park, the eldest daughter of the late President Park Chung-hee, said she also plans to lower interest rates on student loans to make them interest free, and will consider free education for students from low-income families.

   She added that she has thought of ways to properly fund these plans, but did not elaborate on details.

   "I strongly believe that we could have a future only by solving (the tuition issue)," she said. "Young people and students wishing to study should not have to give up or struggle because of a lack of money."

   South Korea is famous for its education fervor, which helped transform the country into Asia's fourth-largest economy from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War. That enthusiasm is sometimes blamed for a highly competitive environment that puts constant pressure on students and their families.

   hague@yna.co.kr
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