[EDITORIALS]Importing Academic TalentThe decision by some domestic universities to hire more foreign professors portends a sea change in the domestic academic community. Seoul National University said last week that it would add 100 foreign professors a year for three years beginning in 2002. It asked the Ministry of Education and Human Resources to provide 6 billion won ($4.6 million) in additional funds in its budget for next year. Korea University announced Monday that it would recruit 200 scholars, or 17 percent of its faculty, from abroad by 2005.
We believe more foreign presence in Korean universities' faculties is desirable because it will help make domestic institutions of higher education more competitive. It is no exaggeration to say that in the era of cutthroat competition, universities' competitiveness determines a country's competitive prowess. Korean universities have so far been very closed and backward in the way they manage school affairs and teach their students. Since domestic universities opened their doors to overseas professors in 1999, they have recruited 1,142 foreigner professors. The number represents only 2.7 percent of the total number of faculty members, and many of them were recruited not on the basis of merit, but of cost. As a result, Korean universities are far less competitive than prominent foreign ones. We were shocked by a recent report by McKinsey, an international consulting agency, which said that even Seoul National, which is regarded as the nation's most prestigious university, would find it difficult to break into the world's top 40 universities with its current structure. According to media reports, a mere 20 percent of research theses produced by Seoul National doctoral candidates meet the global average in terms of quality.
Still, we should remember that mass employment of foreign professors may deprive Korea's next generation brains of the opportunity to get a job at Korean universities. The number of jobless Ph. D. holders is already on the rise.
Another problems is the salary gap between foreign and domestic professors. Seoul National expects to pay an annual salary of $50,000 on average to foreign professors, far higher than an average of 34 million won ($26,174) received by a Korean professor with 10 years of tenure at government-funded university. Given that some foreign professors who specialize in high-technology demand an annual salary of more than $100,000, there is a possibility that the wage gap between foreign and domestic faculty members will cause conflicts.
Enhancing collegiate competitiveness depends not on simply recruiting foreign professors but on hiring able ones. Therefore, universities should adopt a thorough quality management system after the hiring is done.
There should also be complementary measures such as putting a ceiling on the number of foreign professors in each department, to strike a balance with the selection of Korean scholars.