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South Korea making waves in educational reform

With student enrolment at Korean universities expected to drop by 40% over the next 12 years, the government is working hard to bolster the country’s appeal and educational system.

South Korea is implementing reforms aimed at fostering creativity in learning and skills acquisition, and in recent developments, it is introducing a set of measures to ease regulations on local universities.

The Korea Herald has reported that as part of its plan to boost their international competitiveness through enhanced autonomy, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology will soften rules on government subsidies to institutions and – in a new move – allow private institutions for the first time to have residence halls off-campus.

The 32 guidelines for university reform were presented during a special committee meeting presided over by Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik and attended by Education Minister Lee Ju-ho along with high-level ministry officials.

“The new measures are necessary for more effectiveness in university management. We have to boost their competiveness to survive in the global society,” the prime minister said.

To attract more foreign students, the ministry will allow universities greater flexibility in student enrolment in postgraduate programmes. Local institutions will also be able to have residence halls abroad to encourage joint degree programmes with foreign institutions.

Amendments also include easing building and university-owned land development restrictions.

Promoting Korean studies

Korean is further turning up the spotlight with new efforts to promote Korean studies to students, scholars and officials. Previously, the country has collaborated with major allies such as the US, UK and France, but now it’s reaching out to emerging countries, too.

The Korea Foundation, a government-affiliated organisation with the aim to enhance the image of Korea in the world and to promote academic and cultural exchange programmes, has kicked off a project known as “Global e-School” to expand a two-way communication channel between Korea and middle power countries.

“To cost-effectively introduce general information on Korea including its history, culture as well as the country’s democratisation process and economic development to those countries, the foundation will support universities to take part in the Global e-School project,” said president Kim Woo-sang.

According to The Korea Herald, the project currently has 19 universities in 12 countries signed up, and expects to increase the number of participating overseas universities to 57 in 23 countries and offer more than 120 Korea-related courses.

About 2,400 students in and outside Korea are expected to attend e-classes this year. The Korea Foundation provides support for overall costs on curriculum development, lecture management and administration.

The Global e-Schools programme combines real-time online video lectures on Korean studies with offline programmes between universities in Korea and abroad. Online lectures are available on Korean politics, international relations, business, history, language and culture both in Korean and English.

For universities in different time zones, the foundation supports regional consortiums such as operating e-School programs between universities in the U.S. and Latin America. It has set up a consortium between the University of California Los Angeles and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the College of Mexico and the National University of La Plata in Argentina.

This year, the foundation plans to provide e-lectures to universities in the Middle East in partnership with the Central European University in Hungary as the regions have only a two-hour time difference.

Let’s all do the wave

The popularity of the Global e-School project is higher than expected thanks to the Korean Wave, or Hallyu, also known as the K-pop phenomenon.

“The project is aimed at offering a wide range of Korea-related courses to young students interested in Korea, thanks to Hallyu and K-pop stars. It will foster young academics with expertise in Korean studies and also pro-Korea groups in the region,” Kim added.

It seems to be working – more than 500 students in the University of Charles in Prague applied for the programme, far exceeding its capacity of 20 students.

And the Korean Wave extends to all corners of the globe. In early November, the Korea Foundation will hold a week-long festival on Korean culture in Brazil to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and some 20 Latin American countries. Titled “KF Festival in Brazil,” the foundation will bring Korean music, fashion, dance, movies, art and ceramics to the Latin American country. There will be also academic seminars, forums and lectures on Korean studies at local universities during the planned festival in Brazil, Kim said.

K-pop also gave a welcome boost to Korea’s summer schools this year.

Jang Dong-hyun, programme manager of the International Summer Campus at Korea University, told The Jakarta Post that K-pop is one of the key factors prompting foreign students to register for summer schools in Seoul. They started in 2004 with 250 international students, and that number climbed to 1,040 students this year.

The number of summer school students from Hong Kong and Singapore in particular is on the rise at Korea University, reflecting the popularity of Korean pop culture in the two Asian neighbors.

Jang said the number of French students also rose 30% from 2010 summer to 2011 summer. France is one of the major European countries where Korean musicians have held concerts.

What other factors draw international students to Korea?

Word-of-mouth recommendations among foreign students play a crucial role in boosting the number of summer school students, according to university staff.

“Students who had taken a summer course in Korea recommended their friends to follow suit,” Jang said.

A memorable and unique experience in Asia is another reason why students choose Korea over other countries. Christoph Huss, 23, attends a university in Switzerland and chose, along with his friend, a programme in Seoul over the one in Paris as they “wanted to get some experiences and surprises” in a different culture. “Even if the two programmes were the same price, we would choose Korea because it’s a new experience totally,” he said.

Some students come to Korea to take a class their school does not offer.

The high quality of the faculty is another advantage that characterises summer programmes in Korea. Yonsei and Korea University have increased the number of visiting professors to 40 and 56, respectively, for their summer programmes.

For more information on Korea’s reform efforts, such as bilateral research and academic initiatives, please see our article “South Korean educational market maturing.”

Sources: The Korea Herald, The Jakarta Post

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