Yonsei University President Jeong Kap-young speaks about the school’s globalization strategy during an interview with The Korea Times at his office in Seoul, Wednesday. / Korea Times
By Na Jeong-ju
Local universities have adopted ambitious globalization programs, creating more all-English classes and attracting students and professors from abroad.
The education ministry has backed such moves under a long-term plan to nurture world-class universities and meet the growing needs of students and parents for a globalized education.
Some private colleges, however, have taken advantage of it to give admissions to any foreign applicant in a bid to increase enrollment and boost profits. The government is now urging schools to introduce more quality-oriented school programs, rather than just increasing the number of lectures given in English and accepting more foreign students.
Why did such a problem happen?
According to Jeong Kap-young, president of Yonsei University, it’s because most Korean universities have failed to provide adequate programs that meet the needs of foreign students.
“It’s crucial to build a learning environment that is fit for international students. It is crucial to attract talented foreign students and faculty members,” Jeong said in an interview. “It’s also equally important to enhance the quality of education services for those who want to study in Korea. It’s the true meaning of globalization.”
Competing with Ivy League
Yonsei is one of the schools that are often mentioned by top overseas universities when it comes to partnerships with Korean institutions. The central part of its globalization strategy is the Underwood International College (UIC), established in 2006, according to the economics professor.
UIC represents the school’s vision for creating an Ivy League-level learning institution for both Korean and international students. It’s increasingly popular among Koreans who are seeking to enter overseas top universities as well as foreign students who want to study in Korea. The college has invited prominent faculty members from around the world to meet their needs.
“Since its founding in 1885 by Horace G. Underwood, Yonsei has taken a leading role in terms of the internationalization of Korean higher education. UIC acknowledges such origins as the first modern institution of higher learning here while standing at the forefront of today’s rapidly changing, increasingly competitive educational sector,” Jeong said.
Yonsei is one of the largest schools in Korea with more than 38,000 students and 4,500 faculty members. Some 4,000 foreign students are studying at the school.
UIC offers a distinctive English-based education. UIC students can also take part in Yonsei’s extensive exchange program with the option of spending a year in any one of over 620 institutions in 59 countries.
“All classes are conducted in English to facilitate multi-cultural and multinational perspectives on campus. The college is open to students of all nationalities and is devoted to educating future global leaders and democratic citizens,” Jeong said. “We bring together visiting and permanent faculty from Ivy League-level universities around the world to educate creative, critical, and independent thinkers.”
The school adopted the concept of residential college for its new campus in Songdo, Incheon. Professors and students in Songdo live together in dormitories. The school said this is to integrate living and learning, thus helping students build character and engage in study more actively. Yonsei is the first Korean college that has adopted the residential college system for undergraduate students.
“The concept of a residential college will become a pioneering model of university education here,” Jeong said. “Under the system, faculty and students can interact at a deeper level, students of all social and cultural backgrounds learn to appreciate diversity and develop cooperation and communication skills.”
He also said he will enhance distinctive characteristics of Yonsei campuses in Sinchon, Incheon and Wonju, Gangwon Province.
“Yonsei’s competitiveness will depend on how effectively the campuses as well as our Severance Hospital operate under a multi-campus system. Now I’m focusing on generating cross-campus synergy in education and research. I believe that Yonsei’s principle of autonomy as well as integration for our multiple campuses will set an example for other universities.”
Asked about the government’s move to cut tuition, the president said it will ultimately dampen the growth potential of private schools.
Last year, the government revealed that universities have inflated expenditure estimates in order to collect more tuition from students, calling for drastic measures to lower fees. It audited state and private schools, including Yonsei, for months.
“A tuition cut will erode the competitiveness of local schools although they must spend more on expanding their globalization programs,” Jeong said. “It’s the wrong policy. It instead must respect each school’s policy on fees and help them fulfill social responsibility.”
Most private universities in Seoul have lowered tuition slightly this year.
According to the state-run Korea Student Aid Foundation, a majority of universities here lowered tuition this year. The average cut was 4.8 percent, which was much lower than the government’s demand for a double-digit reduction.
A number of educators have showed displeasure over the government intervention in schools’ tuition policy.
“The government has pressured schools to lower fees, reflecting demands from students and civic groups,” Jeong said. “It’s not right for the government to intervene in school affairs. It will negatively affect the country’s academic freedom in the long term.”
He urged the government to give greater autonomy to universities so that they can develop quality programs for students and be more globally competitive.
“Some local colleges are doing very well and they don’t need government control on their admission policy. It is better for the government to be concerned on the quality of university education and research,” he said.