By Choi Sung-jin
The number of foreign students in Korean universities is nearing 100,000 as schools set about attracting talent in keeping with international trends, officials say.
However, conflicts are also deepening between Korean and foreign students because the universities focus only on only quantitative increase while paying little attention to integrating overseas students. As a result, conflicts are deepening between Korean and overseas students.
According to the Justice Ministry, the number of foreign students totaled 95,134 in January, up 12.1 percent from a year ago. Fifteen universities have 1,000 or more foreign students.
But disharmony on campuses is also growing. Korean students, for instance, tend to avoid being placed in the same groups with international students in conducting group tasks because of cultural differences and communication difficulties. The problem is so serious that some local students share the list of courses crowded with foreign students to avoid signing up for those classes.
Foreign students want to learn to speak Korean, but are discouraged because of lack of tuition at their schools' language institutes. Some universities operate volunteer groups or student clubs to help foreign students adjust to campus life, but find it difficult to resolve delicate cultural differences, school officials said.
One way to improve the situation is for the government to change its standard for assessing the schools' international level, which now depends on quantitative indexes, such as the share of exchange students and English-only classes.
Most universities shun qualitative assessments, such as dropout rates and language ability of foreign students, because these standards are limited to exemplary schools, educational experts said.
"It is schools' duty to develop foreign students' talents," said Kim Sang-ho, a fellow at Korea Higher Education Research Institute. "If the education ministry continues to assess schools by just their number of foreign students, the policy for enhancing Korean universities' international competitiveness will end up as empty talk."