Better foreign student educationKorean universities have in recent years been trying to solicit foreign students to add an element of diversity on campus. The government has also been sponsoring the Study in Korea scholarship program since 2004 to promote the globalization of local universities.
The program had been aiming to draw 100,000 foreign students by 2012. The number of foreign students studying on government scholarships was just 133 in 2007, but surged to 745 in 2008, 504 last year and 700 this year.
But by reducing the budget for the program, the government may be giving up on its own goal. Some 200 students who are part of the program are under threat of returning home without finishing their studies because they cannot get extensions on their scholarships now that funding for them has been cut.
The government took the initiative to invite students to study here, but now it is telling them to go home because it can no longer support them.
In the era of global competition, attracting foreign students to this country should not be a choice but part of a state campaign. When we bring 10,000 non-Korean students here, we have the potential to generate some 200 billion won ($174 million) in related revenue. It also helps mitigate the huge education deficit that comes from sending our students overseas for education and training.
At the same time, we will be helping foreigners gain a better understanding of Korea while also fostering human resources for Korea in the future.
Therefore, we should endeavor to boost the number of foreign students studying here to 80,000.
First, however, we have some work to do before we can meet that challenge. We must improve the infrastructure for foreign student education. Universities should develop joint degree programs with their overseas counterparts, increase the number of courses in English, and improve Korean-language learning programs. It is important to provide foreign students with a comfortable and accessible education environment.
While Posco and other local companies have been aggressively increasing their own sponsorship programs for foreign students, the government is instead going against the tide in the crucial area of education for foreign students.
The government should reverse its policy. It should not send foreign students back home with bad memories of Korea.