KPU leader spearheads business-research fusion

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KPU leader spearheads business-research fusion


Lee Jae-hoon, center, chancellor of Korea Polytechnic University, Prof. Hong Seong-soo, left, and researcher Jo Eun-kyeong, right, look at various designs of medical equipment. By Kim Kyung-bin

Lee Jae-hoon, the chancellor of Korea Polytechnic University (KPU), was out of breath when he walked into his office one recent afternoon.

“I was on my way from finishing a family meeting just now,” he told a visitor. “There are 4,000 business companies that have sisterhood ties with our university. I refer to them as our family enterprises.”

There are 17,000 small or midsize companies located near the university, in the center of Sihwa and Banwol Industrial complexes.

Namdong Industrial Complex and Songdo International City are also within a 10-minute drive.

This surrounding industrial environment rendered the university area a “technology mecca of Korea,” Lee said.

For five consecutive years, KPU has ranked No. 1 in its graduate employment rate among universities in the capital region. In a university evaluation conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo, KPU also ranked first in terms of the university’s development potential and its contributions to the country.

“The strength of KPU rests in the hands-on industrial research and education,” he said. “We are putting our best efforts into fostering hidden champions, the pillars of Korean industry.”

Lee introduced what is known as 3.0 industrial-educational fusion, a policy that connects the university with local enterprises that focus on everything from technological research to product development.

He came up with the idea is 2006 when he was working as the director of industry policy at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

At the time, Lee presented a plan to the Ministry of Education that aimed to transform engineering education, wherein educational and industrial cooperation would be emphasized as part of government-wide efforts.

Even then, he considered KPU a role model.

“When the economic crisis hit Europe, Germany survived. And the secret of its strength was in its solid manufacturing industry,” Lee said. “I believe that it is our university’s mission to foster hidden champions in Korean industry, just as Germany did.”

The chancellor elaborated on the concept of industrial-education fusion in a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, as well as his own work experience. The following is an edited excerpt.

Q. What was it like when you came to the university, not working as a bureaucrat?

A. I realized [the situation for small and midsize companies] was way more inadequate than I thought. Seventy percent of companies in the Sihwa and Banwol industrial complexes were renting factories because they couldn’t afford to buy them. It seemed like the center of Korean industry was collapsing.

Do you believe small and midsize companies are Korea’s hidden champions?

Yes. We can no longer rely only on Samsung and Hyundai. We have to obtain solid small to midsize companies like Germany to have a concrete manufacturing industry. That will also help bring about a breakthrough in youth unemployment in Korea.

What is the difference between industrial-educational cooperation and industrial-educational fusion?

The traditional form of industrial-educational cooperation focuses on a university and an enterprise developing technology over the short term - for three to four months. Once the task is complete, they terminate their relationship. In other words, it is a not a method that encourages research in a consistent way. However, when it comes to industrial-educational fusion, a university and an enterprise become one entity, cooperating together throughout the entire process - from the research to the merchandising.

How would the university and an enterprise fuse, exactly?

There are 17,000 small to midsize companies in our industrial complex and only 8.3 percent have their own laboratories. So those companies can’t conduct research even though they need to because of deficient facilities and a lack of manpower. We select the superior companies among them and attract them to our university.

At KPU, there are 60 engineering houses [EH] on campus where professors, students and company researchers collaborate to develop technologies. This is KPU’s unique system of industrial-educational fusion.

Are all departments operated in the EH system?

All 13 departments in our university can apply to the EH. And we evaluate their projects and annually select departments that can join the EH. … All students have to participate in an EH for at least one semester. Through EH, professors can conduct research that is practical in the industrial field, students get hands-on experience, and companies can develop technologies with the university. It’s a win-win.

Practice-centered research must have different evaluation standards when it comes to hiring professors.

We encourage professors to teach what is essential in these fields, not simply what they know. Professors are required to update their teaching plans every six months in line with developments in their field. We also employ professors who have at least seven years of field experience.


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