[VIEWPOINT]On excellence in college education

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[VIEWPOINT]On excellence in college education

Your series on Korean education has prompted these comments. Students want a quality education and good jobs; employers want students with a quality education. Then we have the question of how to pay for an education. In the United States, we have work-study programs, we encourage contractors to employ students part-time and we have scholarships and grants. I was a teaching and research assistant in graduate school. I taught undergraduates, copied and typed and did research for my professor, and earned $400 per month and got a 50 percent discount on my tuition while gaining experience in research and teaching. I was shocked to find that a teaching assistant at a Korean university is a full-time employee, eligible to attend the university while working. Use international students as teaching assistants or pay them to teach their native language at local high schools.

I was asked recently to see if I could help recruit a professor of engineering with a doctoral degree. I checked with some acquaintances, who said the contemplated salary would have to be doubled or tripled and include travel expenses, housing and other benefits.

Quality is not quantity. Having a staff full of Ph.D.s does not ensure quality. Some professors, while brilliant researchers and prolific writers, may lack the skills to teach. This problem might be overcome through hiring and training policies. A Ph.D. should not be the primary criterion for hiring a professor. Some of my best professors held only a master's degree, but had been successful in business. Hire successful professionals or invite them to teach on a part-time basis. Make effective use of international exchanges. Many professors get a sabbatical every four to six years at half pay. Make up the other half of their pay and invite them to teach university classes, provide insight into current teaching theory and practice and hold national workshops.

Both graduate and undergraduate university classes in the United States have changed their training approach over the last decade. There has been a shift from teaching to leading and facilitating, not because orders were issued but because professors were allowed to choose the appropriate method for their courses. Some U.S. universities require a few weeks a year of training for professors.

Quality assurance is also important. Quality requires work, money and monitoring. Money should be allocated to ensure that universities establish and maintain quality-control programs. International accreditation, ISO standards and so on provide a way to ensure quality and international recognition. Some organizations allow credits to be transferred between accredited universities. The bonus is that the student obtains his degree from a Korean university, but gets some education overseas or a student from overseas spends time at a Korean university. Word of mouth is very inexpensive advertising for an academic program.

I think Professor Huh and Professor Gang hit the nail on the head: there are too many graduate programs in Korea. The government and universities need to sit down, throw out partisan politics and develop a reasonable national plan for higher education. For example, University A would focus on producing graduates in business and public administration trained in manufacturing and production. University B would have a business program with a focus on logistics and maritime business. Of course not only specialized programs should be offered, but a reputation for quality in only a few areas is preferable to a reputation of across-the-board mediocrity.

Services to students need work. At a university in Busan, I discovered that the library stacks were closed at the end of the working day. After I got over my initial astonishment, I found that other universities had similar policies. Most U.S. university library stacks are open at least until 11 p.m. and often until 1 a.m. I have also heard complaints about a lack of facilities for international students.

The JoongAng Daily has done well in publishing this interesting series.

* The writer, a maritime consultant, was an assistant professor at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

by Robert Desrosiers

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