[Outlook]Korea needs global universities

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[Outlook]Korea needs global universities

What type of world-class universities should Korea build in the future?
I posed this question to some of the world’s most renowned scholars. David J. Ward, the former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, a leading college in America, said the answer would be global-level comprehensive research universities.
Donald Kennedy, former chancellor of Stanford University, and Niel L. Rudenstine, former president of Harvard University, gave the same answer.
They said by “comprehensive-research,” they did not mean that universities should focus only on research but that they should educate, research and train leaders in unique and creative ways. By “comprehensive,” they meant universities should do these things thoroughly and completely. They said the universities that do so are top-class schools by international standards.
Mr. Ward stressed that only a small number of universities could become comprehensive research universities. He told me about his experiences in Wisconsin. When there were a dozen state universities there in the past, politicians distributed funds to them equally. Because no school was funded adequately enough to excel, all the schools suffered and lost prestigious professors, causing a crisis in education.
To solve this problem, the main campus in Madison was turned into a comprehensive research university and the rest of the state schools specialized in different subjects. The specialized universities were connected with the comprehensive research university at the core, creating a complete university system. Dr. Ward said by 2020 some 40 comprehensive research universities will exist in the world, and it would be good if Korea had three of them.
Just as the Taeneung Athletic Training Center is a place to produce the world’s best athletes in archery and short track speed skating, a comprehensive research university is a place to train and produce world-class leaders, strategists, entrepreneurs, experts and scholars. Korea has not prepared an organized system to train talented people. Professor Edward S. Mason at Harvard University said Korea had to live through the Japanese occupation, the Korean War and the division of the country because it lacked competent leaders.
The United States has both world-class companies and prestigious comprehensive research universities. Japan has many of the former but a shortage of the latter, which is the reason for hardships such as the bubble economy.
The United States has been able to become the world’s strongest and richest country because it has constantly produced the world’s most talented people. China is using all its energy to develop both top-level companies and universities on the global stage. So is Singapore. When world-class companies and prestigious universities are located nearby, their combined effect becomes even greater. Good examples can be found in the Silicon Valley near Stanford University and Zhongguancun, China’s silicon valley near Qinghua University in Beijing.
Korea’s top three ship-building companies are also the world’s top three. Thus, many vessels that sail across the five oceans are made in Korea. If Korea’s three comprehensive research universities became the top three, the Korean secretary general of the United Nations, the Korean president of the International Chamber of Commerce and Korean members of the International Olympic Committee will lead the world. Problems in Korea’s education system and housing will be solved and our education and housing sectors will also become top class. Korea has the ability to build these universities.
When Korea’s government is pursuing a free trade agreement with the United States, Korean companies need to be provided with world-class talented people educated by prestigious comprehensive research universities. Otherwise they will not survive the severe competition on the global stage.
In this era of knowledge-based industries, one world-class smart person can feed tens of thousands of people. Smart and talented people will become the most important resources some day. Thus the most urgent task for Korea is to establish top-class comprehensive research universities.
The next thing to do is to build a network of universities with comprehensive research universities at the center, building a couple of university systems. Third, we should develop our best comprehensive research university even further to make it like a company that represents Korea on the global stage. Then, the university should be connected to an area that represents our country. Precious taxpayers’ money must be spent to make people’s lives more comfortable and prosperous. To that end, we should train respected leaders and experts in every sector of our society at world-class comprehensive research universities.

*The writer is a professor emeritus at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Song Byung-nak
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