While professional politicians engaged in the struggle for realignment, college students were restless for action. The students initially were concerned with campus affairs. As soon as the new semester began in March 1980, students on various campuses began to demand the removal of professors with close ties to the Park regime, and of university owner-presidents who had amassed fortunes by operating their institutions. They also demanded autonomy from government control. The students held rallies and on-campus demonstrations and in some cases occupied college offices. As a result of the unrest, many university presidents resigned.
In early May 1980, however, the students' slogans began to change. Students demanded that martial law be lifted immediately and that the "remnants of the yusin system," including Chun, be removed. They also demanded the guarantee of labor rights, the removal of "compradore capital," and the protection of farmers' rights. Although student demonstrations had been confined to their campuses when the issues raised concerned institutional matters, they how began to spill out into the streets.
The massive demonstrations by the students continued until May 16, when Premier Sin Hyon-hwak promised that the government would attempt to speed up the process of adopting a new constitution. Ch'oe even shortened his Middle Eastern trip by a day and returned home on the evening of May 17. Student demonstrations paralyzed the nation and sent politicians and government leaders to their council meetings. According to an unconfirmed report, Sin even offered his resignation to the president upon his return and advised the president to remove Chun.