02/02/2006 | Korea
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Korean international postgraduate study - a dramatic transformation

Kyung-won CHUNG Ph.D. KAIST

Korean study

Korea has shot from a per capita income of just $100 in the 1960s to tenth highest in the world in 2005. International students can now reap the benefit by following international postgraduate study in major Korean universities. In recent years, there have been significant changes in the higher education of Korea. It has become an everyday occurrence to meet foreign professors and students in Korean university campuses, which previously consisted of Korean people only. Due to 5,000 years of homogeneous tradition in Korea, foreigners are sometimes still viewed as mysterious outsiders. However, the successful industrialization of Korea starting in the 1960s and Korea’s industrial structure, which relies heavily on exportation, have accelerated globalization in every field in Korea, including education.

Even though foreign professors and students did exist in mission schools such as Yonsei and Sogang universities, true internationalization of higher education in Korea started with the foundation of KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), a research-oriented university in 1971. One of the establishment aims of KAIST, which was founded by Korean government, was to protect against brain drain by developing a top-level, research-oriented university in science and engineering. KAIST has developed various forms of international cooperation and exchanges by inviting internationally renowned scholars and instituting a graduation requirement that every Ph.D. candidate must publish their dissertations in internationally renowned academic journals.

‘It has become an everyday occurrence to meet foreign professors and students in Korean university campuses.’

Starting in 1990, following the trends of supply and demand in the global education market, Korean universities pursued their own international strategies. They started to engage in more bilateral cooperation and exchanges with foreign universities, providing Korean language programs, tuition exemptions, and various scholarships for international students. Leading universities in Korea (called “SKY Universities”), such as Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University, as well as GIST (Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology), POSTECH (Pohang University of Science and Technology), and others, actively carried out international programs and increased the number of international exchange students and degree-seeking students.

To promote international cooperation and exchanges and discuss issues in international education, Korean universities formed KAIE (Korean Association of International Educators; www.kaie.org) in 1998 and KAFSA (Korean Association of Foreign Student Administrators; www.kafsa.or.kr) in 1999. Furthermore, in 1991, KOICA (Korea International Cooperation Agency; www.koica.go.kr) was established to develop and promote international cooperation between Korea and developing countries, such as recruiting excellent international students to degree programs in Korean universities and sending Korean professors and researchers for joint research and lectures.

Kyung-won Chung

In the meantime, KAIST, which is the role model of research-oriented education in Korea, appointed a foreign president in 2004, entering into a new phase of globalization. Under the leadership of President Robert B. Laughlin, the Nobel Laureate in Physics in 1998, KAIST has selected a new vision for a “Bilingual Campus”. KAIST already had an existing policy which stated that if there was a foreign student in any class, the class should be taught in English, and nearly 40% of the total lectures were already being taught in English at the postgraduate level. However, the new vision intends not only to increase the number of courses offered in English, but also to create an environment where two languages can be shared naturally. Since up-to-date facilities are being built on the campus to support foreign professors and students and international joint research projects are being actively conducted, KAIST is becoming the ideal venue in which to study and conduct research in cutting edge areas, especially from the perspective of excellent international students.

Also, KAIST has made efforts to diversify its globalization. Emerging from American-centered international relations, KAIST has broadened its collaboration with France, Germany, Turkey, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, just to name a few. KAIST has signed cooperative agreements with École Polytechnique and École Normal Supérieure in France, the University of Melbourne in Australia, and is also discussing dual masters programs and joint doctorate programs with other universities.