중앙데일리

President urges extensive reforms at engineering schools

May 03,2014
Engineering colleges in Korea will be reformed under a new set of standards, according to the government, with a shift toward practical education with real-world applications rather than theoretical learning.

“The current education system is barely connected with the real industrial world,” President Park Geun-hye said at the eighth presidential advisory council on science and technology held on April 10. “It’s hard to nurture talented individuals who are needed by industrial businesses under a curriculum that only focuses on academic theories.”

Korea ranked third globally in 2012 for its number of patents and dissertations, but it ranked 43rd in technological industrialization and standardization, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Even though Korea’s engineering graduates outnumber those in other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), their practical capabilities are noticeably lower. Many professors’ research results have also proved to be too academic to be adopted in the real world, Park noted.

“The results of research and projects must be applied to the real industrial world, not piled up inside a lab,” she added. “They must be used practically to improve the commercial industry and develop new markets.”

The president also emphasized the industrialization of the techniques already patented but not yet practiced in the industry. “More than 70 percent of the patents held by public research institutes are not in use,” she said, stressing that it was one of the biggest issues.

The council concluded that there was too much attention paid to the quantity of published work in scientific databases rather than the quality.

Education focused on pragmatic issues and cooperation between universities and the engineering sector has been largely neglected, it added, and universities have focused too much on hiring professors with more published theses in order to qualify for more research funding and better evaluations from the government.

“Professors only focus on ‘hobby theories’ and publishing those papers in the [Scientific Citation Index database],” said Pahk Heui-jae, a professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Seoul National University. “Their research is for their own academic interest.”

To change the current situation, the committee is considering reforming the criteria in designating government-funded colleges, including the number of patents, the commercial potential of the patents and the level of cooperation with the industry.

Qualifications for professorships would be changed, too, with less emphasis placed on published work and preference given to applicants with real-world work experience.

Colleges’ curricula will also be upgraded. The committee said more credits of profession-related lectures would be necessary to graduate, and the Ministry of Education will advise schools to set up field training manuals to increase practical capacity.

In addition, local enterprises that provide internships to engineering students would receive financial benefits from the government.

Still, some worry that the reforms are too extensive and would leave local colleges lagging behind bigger universities with more resources.

“The level of university-industry cooperation varies in different localities,” said a professor in the engineering department in a regional university. “Emphasizing university-industry cooperation status in university evaluations without considering the differences between local [schools] will only deepen the educational polarization between regions.”

BY YUN SUK-MAN, JO SOO-MIN [enational@joongang.co.kr]




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