[VIEWPOINT]Korea’s handicap in global education

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[VIEWPOINT]Korea’s handicap in global education

Sanchit Sehrawat, 20, is an undergraduate at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. His parents are Indian. He applied to Kaist because he heard that if there was even one foreigner among the students, the courses would be taught in English.
But among the six courses he enrolled in last semester, the only one that gave lectures in English was “Advanced English Conversation,” a basic requirement for which he registered. Lectures for all major courses were given in Korean. Throughout the semester he felt like a deaf-mute in all his major classes.
Kaist’s Website says 50 percent of lectures in graduate courses and 30 percent of undergraduate courses are conducted in English. The school’s vision is to increase the rates to 100 percent and 70 percent, respectively, by 2010 and to become one of the world’s top ten global universities in science and technology by 2015.
But the reality Sanchit has experienced is far from the advertised present, and even farther from the vision.
Among the world’s top 100 global universities according to a ranking by Newsweek, no Korean university is on the list.
Considering the sweat and tears our students and their parents shed for college education, Korean universities should rank among the top in the world, but as it turns out, they are frogs in the well. This story is not new.
We may ignore the ranking and ask, “What is the big deal with this unilateral ranking measured according to the yardstick and tastes of Anglo-Saxons?”
We may comfort ourselves thinking that even if others do not acknowledge us, we have only to work hard and do well. But that is not how the world in the global age goes round.
We live in a world where the logic of the powerful becomes the standard and the report card issued according to such standard is accepted as the reference. We should examine cool-headedly the reasons why our universities, however excellent they may be at home, cannot get recognition abroad.
The ranking by Newsweek was reportedly based on the measures of research results and level of globalization.
Among the top 100 global universities, 70 came from English-speaking countries, including the United States, Britain and Australia. When Hong Kong and Singapore, where English is the official language, are added, as many as 75 universities belong to English-speaking countries.
It is notable that five universities in Japan, a non-English-speaking country, are among the top 100 global universities, but it is no wonder, given the country’s long tradition of Western studies and high level of globalization (See the table provided).
When we count only the number of SCI (Scientific Citation Index)-level theses, Korea ranked 13th in the world in 2004.
Considering research performance alone, Korean universities do not fall too far behind. After all, the poor level of globalization is what’s holding back our universities in the global competition.
Aware of this, domestic universities are striving to raise the percentage of lectures given in English. During the last semester, the offering of English lectures was 30.9 percent at Korea University, 18.1 percent at Yonsei University and 4.7 percent at Seoul National University.
When we cannot bring in enough international faculty, our universities can hardly deliver lectures in English properly. Communication problems can lead to poor instruction or teaching in English may end up being perfunctory (See “The shade of English lectures in universities,” June 27, Kyunghyang Daily News).
The secret is money. If we had a lot of money like Japan, we could invite foreign professors and bring in foreign students by giving scholarships. If the government cannot do so, universities should be able to take measures to rescue themselves. For this purpose, securing the autonomy of colleges and universities is the key. It is no coincidence that most of the top 100 global universities enjoy the highest level of autonomy.
English education in elementary and secondary schools should be changed too. Well-equipped schools should provide bilingual education to prepare students for global competition. The competitiveness of colleges in small countries in Europe, such as Switzerland and the Netherlands, did not happen by chance.
The day when Sanchit’s dream of “listening to lectures in English” comes true, our universities will be able to see their names in the ranking of the top 100 global universities.

* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Bae Myung-bok
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