[Campus Commentary]Appeal to universities: please slow downNo Korean university made it onto Newsweek’s list of the top 100 global universities in August last year. The list measured schools in terms of openness, diversity and distinction in research ― standards that are believed to define a global university. Japan’s Tokyo University was ranked 16th, the highest among Asian universities; four other Japanese universities were on the list. The list was both a big disappointment and a shock to Korean society. Nowadays, recognition as a global university means that the university itself, along with its country, is endowed with international competitiveness, power and influence over many other countries.
Six months after this horrible shock, it seems that almost all Korean universities are in a life and death race to make themselves global. Early this year university presidents announced bold plans to become internationally prestigious. Universities are taking the first step by increasing the number of classes taught in English and enlarging their foreign faculty.
Beginning this year, all freshman classes at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology will be conducted in English. Korea University is planning to increase the percentage of its English-taught classes to 60 percent by the year 2010. Ewha Womans University plans to hire about 50 more foreign professors by 2009. Beginning this year, new Ewha students will be required to take four classes in English in order to graduate.
It is good to see universities increasing English classes and foreign faculty, because this effort is very important for attracting foreign students and preventing outstanding Korean students from going overseas. In my view, classes taught in English have many advantages; in global society, people with no English language skills will find it hard to survive.
However, I can’t help feeling that universities are taking these steps too fast and too indiscriminately, and for the most part without considering the students. This semester, Ewha added 11 foreign professors. More than 300 classes will be taught in English this semester, a 50 percent increase from last year. This drastic change has not pleased many students.
Most of all, students feel the university did not fully prepare for the drastic increase, but wanted only to show off its numbers. An incident on the first day of a class taught in English was telling: a newly hired foreign professor told the class he arrived in Korea just two days earlier, and he really didn’t have any idea what to teach. He asked the students what they wanted to learn.
Quite a few students avoid classes taught in English because they think they are not fluent enough, and that they will fail the course. Others complain that the school seems not to consider the characteristics of specific studies. For example, studies in history, literature and philosophy can be perfectly conveyed to students in languages other than English.
To be a top global university is a good and admirable goal, but the process of becoming one is more important. Schools should carefully consider the students’ capabilities and needs and try to provide more high-quality education through research.
*The writer is a reporter for the Ewha Voice, an English news magazine of Ewha Womans University.
by Kim Ji-young