School senseThe plan to establish international schools in the economic free zone in Incheon is not going smoothly. International schools are a core infrastructure to attract foreign investment. The office for the Incheon free economic zone plans to establish five international schools in Songdo, Yeongjong and Cheongna districts in Incheon. For now, however, only plans for an international school in Songdo is proceeding. It was supposed to open in September, but it will likely be delayed because International School Services, an American private organization, postponed seeking permission to establish the school. In 2004 Yeongjong District signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nord Anglia Education Group of Britain to establish an international school, but the deal fell apart last year. Last month, Cheongna District sought an individual or a group to open a school there, but failed to find an investor.
Problems with opening international schools were predicted because of regulations. The law on opening and running foreign educational institutions states that investors must be non-profit education corporations. The law also prohibits foreign school owners or investors from sending profits made from running schools to their homeland. To open a school, an initial investment of 70 billion won to 100 billion won ($110 million) is needed. It doesn’t make sense to tell investors to give up profits when they spend such a huge amount of money. That makes it nearly impossible to open international schools. Running international schools in a foreign country is not charity work. The law also states that an international school can have only 30 percent Korean students. That is too small a percentage to maintain a new school in its early stages when there are not enough foreign students.
Three years ago a special law on international schools was proposed that allowed school investors to send profits home. But it was debated and eventually dropped in the National Assembly. That is because of a bias that schools must not pursue profit, and also because politicians did not want to upset Korean private schools. But the regulation must be lifted so that foreign investors can send profits home. The quota of Korean students must be increased to 50 percent for the first five years after a school opens. An international school in Jeju is subject to another law and it can have 50 percent Korean students. The view that only non-profit organizations can run schools must be changed. Efficiency is important, and a business mind is required in every sector.
If it is difficult to apply the new rules to every school immediately they should be applied to international schools first.