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South Korean educational market maturing

South Korea is increasingly on the radar these days for its continuing market potential, but also in terms of its willingness to strengthen its own educational institutions and to join in bilateral research and academic initiatives.

Strong interest in China

In the past, South Korea has been an important source country for students, with most South Korean students choosing destinations like the US, Canada, and Europe – and more recently showing much more interest in China. Inside Higher Ed reports that 70% of international students in degree programmes in the top Chinese universities are South Korean, and that over the past decade (since China and South Korea established diplomatic relations in 1992) South Korea has represented by far the biggest source country for Chinese universities.

However, some Chinese education authorities feel that the quality of South Korean students is lacking in terms of language proficiency and academic calibre (the top South Korean students still tend to choose American and European schools for study abroad).

Additionally, cultural exchange has become a priority amongst Korea, China and Japan.  At a trilateral meeting held in Shanghai last Saturday, officials said they have agreed to expand cultural cooperation and promote exchanges between the three countries.

The action plan includes programmes designating “cultural cities” in each of the three countries in 2014. The annual meeting was attended by Korean Culture Minister Choe Kwang-shik, China’s Culture Minister Cai Wu and Japan’s Minister of Education, Culture Sports, Science and Technology Hirofumi Hirano.

Increased research cooperation with Europe

South Korean students’ interest in language programmes has always been strong and remains so – language programmes accounted for 57% of overall South Korean agent business in 2011. But now, new agreements may be paving the way for South Koreans’ increased participation in other kinds of international study.

The European Union and South Korea have agreed to a range of initiatives to strengthen research cooperation, according to University World News. The online reporting service quoted European Commission President José Manuel Barroso as saying the intent of such cooperation is “to build innovation alliances at the business and research institutes’ level.”

Barroso sees great potential for work in the fields of environmentally friendly technologies, in particular “joint initiatives in energy, industrial technologies and information technology which would include linking of research projects (twinning) and specific items such as joint EU-South Korean workshops.”

Seeking models for educational reform

Interested not only in its role as a source country for students but also as a destination country for study abroad, South Korea is working to upgrade its schools and practices to make them more attractive.

Dr Seong Taeje, President of the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE) recently travelled to Wellington, New Zealand for meetings with Education New Zealand (ENZ), New Zealand Qualifications Authority, the Ministry of Education, and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

ENZ reported that the “Korean government is keen to learn more about New Zealand’s education system and curriculum as they move to update their own schools and curriculum.” The organisation noted that of particular interest seemed to be “the decentralised system in New Zealand and the ability of schools to create a learning environment that is appropriate to the needs of their students.”

Branch campuses opening in Songdo, Incheon

Joining other universities gravitating to the Incheon Free Economic Zone in South Korea, State University of New York opened its first branch campus there earlier this year. The Korea Herald reports that “two more schools are expected to open in Incheon, including George Mason University in the US and Ghent University from Belgium, as part of the Korean government’s effort to create a special zone for higher education in the area.”

Sources: Inside Higher Ed, University World News, Education New Zealand, The Korea Herald

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