A crammer in Seoul’s affluent Gangnam area that specializes in preparing students for schools overseas recently held a well-attended seminar devoted to Canadian universities. But the smartly dressed audience had not come to find out how their kids can gain admission but how to apply themselves.
The draw is Canada’s study permit program, which guarantees free schooling for the children of foreign students at public universities.
Word first spread among Gangnam’s ambitious mothers three or four years ago, and now the weakening Canadian dollar has made the program even more attractive.
Mothers are rediscovering their thirst for knowledge because college tuition there is cheaper than the cost of their kids to school overseas. They can save W10-20 million (US$1=W1,133) a year per child.
According to Canadian government figures, a foreign university student spends on average 22,753 Canadian dollars a year.
One woman with three children explained the math. “If I sent the kids to a Canadian public school it would cost me W13-17 million per child, so I save anywhere between W20 million and W30 million if I enroll in a public university myself.”
Canadian immigration officials have caught wind of the ruse and changed regulations in June last year so only students at some hand-picked universities can get the coveted visas, and the attendance records of foreign students with kids must be reported to the state.
Chronic absenteeism can mean the visa is revoked.
But Korean mothers may well continue to tread this path even if it means studying for a bona-fide degree, since graduating automatically gives them a three-year employment visa that enables them to stay on and take care of their children.
One 39-year-old woman said, “I’ll have to go back to being a student again, but if it’s going to help my kids I don’t mind.”