Self-teaching is the way forward

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Self-teaching is the way forward


Suh Kyo-il, president of Soonchunhyang University, stresses the importance of “self-directed” learning for students during a recent interview with the JoongAng Sunday. [KIM SUNG-TAE]

The city of Asan, South Chungcheong, is home to many traces of Yi Sun-sin (1545-98), a renowned Korean admiral whose naval victories were instrumental in repelling Japanese invasions of Korea in the 1590s. Admiral Yi’s tomb and memorial museum are located in Asan. And a university in the same region is hoping to achieve the same revered reputation as Admiral Yi, but on a global scale.

“Specializations of the school and nurturing young talents are keys to the future,” Suh Kyo-il, the president of Soonchunhyang University, said during a recent interview with the JoongAng Sunday. “Admiral Yi’s creativity and leadership are the most powerful inspiration for Soonchunhyang University students.”

Suh emphasized the importance of innovation in the era of artificial intelligence (AI). As a president who was formally a doctor, he has a strong conviction about entrepreneurship.

To encourage students’ attempts for innovation, Soonchunhyang University built a so-called Industry Inside Center located at the first floor in the engineering building of the university, a center to help students’ ergonomic imagination and desire for start-ups. Also, Soonchunhyang University established Soonchunhyang Institute of Medi-bio Science, a world-class research center, and is expanding the transnational research which connects the basic sciences and clinical skills.

Suh emphasized Soonchunhyang University’s educational philosophy “love of human beings.” To practice it for himself, Suh provides volunteer medical services in and outside of the country.

Below are edited excerpts of the interview.

Q. Many universities are located in Asan and Cheonan, South Chungcheong. What do you think the reason is?

. Asan and Cheonan can be seen as metropolitan areas that are located only an hour away from Seoul. A total of 11 universities are located in Asan and Cheonan. In the era when the low birth rate is a serious problem, Soonchunhyang University, with creativity, could become the Stanford University of Asan.

You emphasize Admiral Yi’s spirit. Do you think Admiral Yi’s spirit is still relevant in the era of AI?

Admiral Yi’s turtle ship [a warship used effectively in defeating the Japanese invaders in the 16th century] and AlphaGo [Google’s AI program which is famous for defeating Lee Se-dol, a master in the traditional Korean board game baduk, also known as Go, in 2016] both took many attempts to perfect. This is the reason why we established the world’s only historical research institute of Admiral Yi and try to spread his spirit by conducting seminars every year. Unwavering spirit and creativity are the keys to success. I plan to train leaders through the revolution in education.

Can you elaborate on the university’s excellent facilities?

More important than the facilities is the learning method. The students should be the ones controlling their independent, active and cooperative education. The key point is that the professors design the learning environment, and the students should be capable of studying themselves. I named the Soonchunhyang’s education innovation program “TLST”, an abbreviated form of “Teaching Less for Self-Teaching.” The College of Convergence for Wellness is an example. It is distinguished from other colleges in that it makes students do everything from the basics of establishing a start-up to the intensive process, on their own.

Do you believe that students should be pioneers?

Yes. In the era of AI which focuses on creativity, problem-solving abilities, and cooperation, self-teaching is important. The University of Waterloo in Canada cut back on professor led lectures by 50 percent and instead introduced a global internship program in their place. Babson College in Massachusetts in the United States, which is well-known for start-up education, achieved world-fame with its entrepreneurship curriculum. The most important factor is not the location of the university, but its power through specific types of education.

How are you going to deal with the decreasing number of students?

Specialization is the answer. We set a medium- and long-term development plan “UniTopia 2030,” which has five areas. They are education, research, collaboration with companies, glo-cal [global and local] and business. The first plan, which runs from 2019 to 2022, is for practical research based on innovation and learner-centered infrastructure expansion. The second, which will run from 2023 to 2026, is for the establishment of an international hub for convergence and practical research. The third, from 2027 to 2030, is for globalization of the value of the brand and entry into the top 10 percent for the convergence and practical research competitiveness.

What is your plan for increasing the competitiveness of the university?

We plan to do so through biomedical research. We are focusing on translational and practical research rather than basic research. We put vigor into Soonchunhyang Institute of Medi-bio Science with the introduction of a special system for appointing research professors. Currently, there are six or seven, but we are planning to make that number 20. We are planning a collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science, which is located in Rehovot, Israel, and good at practical research.

Do you have any plans other than Soonchunhyang Residential College (SRC) [a total care system through which each freshman is given special attention by a professor from his or her department and a senior student]?

We are planning to build a campus town, just like Mayo Clinic, an American nonprofit academic medical center based in Minnesota, which allows development with the community. The Mayo Clinic is located in Rochester, Minn., and runs many practical research projects. After it was built, the population it hired as employees was over 20,000. Like this, we plan to build a research town for the young.

Many university presidents expressed anger about the government’s education policy on college admissions. What are your thoughts?

Soonchunhyang University has a total of 2,352 undergraduates enrolled, about 26 percent of whom were admitted through the regular admissions track, and the remaining 74 percent through the early admissions track. It is wrong for the government to intervene in problems related to college admissions. The most important thing is providing good teaching. Just as one suggestion, I hope the government will deregulate the regulations for the management of the school sites and that its education policy be more positive and developmental.

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