[Viewpoint] Higher education going global

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[Viewpoint] Higher education going global

In a global age, Korean universities are naturally focusing on globalization. Most universities say internationalization or globalization are part of their central goal for development and are establishing international departments where all classes are taught in English. Some select students who are fluent in foreign languages in the name of “global selection.”

They are also putting added effort into attracting foreign professors and students, and increasing the number of classes taught in English to raise the international understanding of students. Due to such efforts, the international horizon of Korean universities is rapidly expanding.

For example, the number of foreign students enrolled in regular degree programs at Seoul National University was around 270 students 10 years ago. Today, there are more than five times as many, or around 1,370 students. Including non-degree foreign students such as exchange students and language course students, the number is close to 3,000, which is more than 10 percent of the total student population.

The number of foreign professors is also rapidly increasing in most universities because of the World Class University project (WCU). A foreign professor employment wind is blowing through the universities, with Konkuk University and Yonsei University filling around half of their vacant faculty positions with foreigners.

Needless to say, this is a good phenomenon.

Whether we like it or not, the world is going toward globalization, and the human resources we train will have to have international skills to compete on the world stage.

However, there is a need to reflect on whether Korean universities are remembering important values that should truly be maintained as they put all their efforts into increasing the quantitative internationalization of their student body and professorial staffs.

The first value is quality of education and research. Many universities actually have more lenient standards for entrance of foreign students than for Korean students, and some even attract foreign students randomly to reach statistical goals.

In addition, the ability to pick up certain concepts generally decreases when classes are taught in English instead of Korean.

Therefore, it is worth considering whether English classes should be unconditionally increased. The ultimate goal of university globalization is to improve the quality of student education and research, and the strong attachment to a goal of “internationalization” should not lead to a lower quality of education and research.

Second is consideration for guests. Foreigners who come to study or work in Korea leave an environment they are used to and come in contact with a foreign culture and environment in Korea.

Although they may become part of our community after a while, these people are primarily our guests and problems are arising as we focus on attracting more people when we are unprepared to properly welcome them. For example, the number of foreign professors is increasing, but with all official documents written in Korean and professor meetings or official events being held in Korean, foreign professors are naturally left out.

In addition, since students can only apply for classes in Korean in many schools, foreign students cannot apply without the help of a Korean friend. Furthermore, foreign professors and students experience great inconvenience solving different problems because not many faculty or staff speak English. Even simple things like opening a bank account are not easy.

Aside from inconveniences on campus, there are a few things about government systems that are disadvantageous to foreign professors and students. Most visas are short-term and have to be renewed every year, and many foreigners feel that the attitude of immigration control is unpleasant and inconvenient. The situation is so bad that they say students who study in Korea turn into people who hate Korea rather than becoming pro-Korean when they return to their home countries.

In order to solve such problems, it is time for us to turn away from quantitative internationalization and pursue qualitative internationalization. Efforts are needed to attract outstanding foreign university professors and students and simultaneously stimulate qualitative improvements.

In order to do this, we must actively look for skilled human resources instead of waiting around for them to show up, and also make educational, research, living and cultural conditions of Korea more attractive to foreigners. Obviously universities will have to make the greatest efforts. But to pull it off also requires efforts of the government and society.

Internationalization shows that development of universities is ultimately closely related to social development.

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

by Oh Se-jung

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