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University of Ulsan president talks local impact

Former SNU leader wants to prepare students for society

Feb 23,2019
President of the University of Ulsan Oh Yeon-cheon, 68, smiles at the university library along with students on Jan. 29. Oh told students that “structuring one’s unclear future is a perk of being young” and emphasized that “there is nothing a positive mind and a strong passion can’t overcome.” [KIM HYUN-DONG]
Oh Yeon-cheon, the University of Ulsan’s current president, is known in the academic world as a humble man.

Oh, 68, lives by the belief of “if one is not humble, then he cannot see the fault in himself, but rather try to find fault in others.”

This was probably the reason why he almost never granted an interview when he served as president of Seoul National University from 2010 to 2014. “People all have different opinions, and sometimes it so happens that their ideas don’t match with the president’s opinion. I think it’s the president’s job to make a carefree environment where students can be star players who aren’t afraid to speak up for what they believe in,” said Oh.

It has been four years since Oh starting leading the University of Ulsan as president. He is planning to serve a second term starting next month.



Q. What motivated you to become the president of the University of Ulsan, and how is it different from your previous job as president of Seoul National University?

A
. During my term at Seoul National University, I learned and experienced a lot regarding education in Korea. I wanted to introduce my new values to a local university. The big difference between a national university and a local university is that their values are different. Local universities play a huge role in their local community. They strive to cultivate college students who can be a regional human resource and make contributions to the community. Seoul National University, on the other hand, focuses on nurturing future academic generations at a national and international level. It’s easy for Seoul National University to get attention, but for a local university, that is not the case.



Then what do you think the most unique characteristics of the University of Ulsan are?

Ulsan is famous for having three major industries — heavy industry, the petrochemical industry and the auto industry. Taking this into consideration, our university adopted the “sandwich education system” in order to train students so they can immediately work as soon as they graduate. It’s a system that was widely adopted in England in 1956 and is an industry-university collaboration that nurtures students by educating them in terms of theory and practice. I think it’s a highly practical and effective education system that is going to better prepare our students adapt to society.



Can you tell us more about this “sandwich system” at your school?

The British government has been supporting our university with practice equipment and all kinds of devices used for this curriculum ever since 1972. As the first university in Korea to adopt this system, we have made colossal achievements, with over 938 corporations including Hyundai Heavy Industries, Hyundai Motor and SK Energy having contracts with our university.

During the third year in our university, students are sent out for one-month field practice that is worth two credits during summer and winter vacation. For third-year and fourth-year students, longer field practice for up to 24 weeks’ worth of 14 credits for both summer and winter seasons are open as well. I like to think that this is the most effective way for our students to become more familiar with their future work environments.



How is the university preparing for the fourth industrial revolution?

We have invited staff that have effective knowledge from working at industrial sites as professors. We are also working on implementing advanced technology into the sandwich system.

The recent implementation of a top-level human resources training program with Hyundai Heavy Industries called the “Digital Transformation” system is one example. We also educate students regarding the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI). The capstone design program that we devised allows students to work in teams to design, build and test prototypes with real world applications, and this is something that we take pride in.



Currently, many local universities are disappearing — what do you think is the key for local colleges to survive?

I think the initial problem stems from the fact that during the last 20 years, the government has combined so many small colleges into collegiate universities. We need to advocate for diverse, unique universities, not turn them all into “universal colleges.” I think it’s important for the local universities to find their color — and by this I mean devise unique curriculum and departments that match local characteristics. Local colleges, like I mentioned before, play a huge role in their community, and if students from these universities play a big role in the community, then the value of that university naturally has to increase.

BY YANG YOUNG-YU, lEE HAE-SUN [lee.haesun@joongang.co.kr]


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