Maternity leave becomes legal right of students
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Maternity leave becomes legal right of students
  • Lee Yoon-soo
  • 승인 2016.02.29 11:29
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Implementing maternity leave will become an obligation for universities in Korea.
On Feb. 4, law makers revised a clause of the Higher Education Act. According to the revised clause, students who wish to take a semester off to raise a child under the age of eight or to accommodate pregnancy will be eligible for a leave of absence under the school regulations.
Before the amendment, permitting maternity leave had been up to universities. The Higher Education Act allowed leave of absence only in the case of military service, physical or mental disability, and other reasons stated in school regulations. However, in the past five years, there have been constant efforts to improve educational environments for student moms.
The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission conducted a survey on school’s support for student moms in 2011. According to the survey, 66 percent of universities in Korea did not have a system of permitting childcare or pregnancy leave.
Since then, the commission advised 47 national and public universities and about 180 private universities to implement maternity leave. Several schools took the advice by allowing student moms to postpone their studies. Dongguk, Kookmin, Korea, Sogang, and Yonsei University introduced maternity leave in the spring semester of 2014. Ewha Womans University adopted maternity leave at the undergraduate level and further allowed graduate students’ leave of absence due to childcare in the fall semester of 2015.
Maternity leave has now become mandatory for all schools. The purpose of the amendment is to make a legal basis to protect students’ rights regarding pregnancy and childcare. While students have reacted positively to the new policy, some students doubt the effectiveness of the amendment.
“It could be beneficial especially to graduate students who are generally in the age of marriage,” said Hwang Sung-hae, a graduate student at Yonsei University. “However, students will not be able to freely apply for the leave of absence. Usually, graduate students work as teaching assistants or participate in research projects with professors. In this situation, it is not easy to freely take a day off.”
Hwang mentioned that to support student moms, other policies such as the establishment of child-care centers or the enlargement of financial support should also be considered.
Indeed, statistics show that only few students have benefitted from the policy by taking semesters off for pregnancy and childcare. Out of 60 students (including post-graduates), there was only one undergraduate student who applied for maternity leave at Seoul National University last semester. In the first year of  implementation of the policy, only two students applied for the leave of absence including graduate students.
“Even though policymakers should consider various ways to make improvements, I think we are now heading in the right direction to support student moms,” said Nam Jeong-min, a junior majoring in French. “The amendment is a proof that the society is having interests in protecting the rights of female students and enhancing gender equality.”


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