Link Universities and Society More Closely
For those of you who may be concerned about Korea's higher education system, I want to assure you the future of Korea's university system looks bright ― many leading universities in our nation are taking steps to make themselves more competitive on the global stage.
Classes Taught in English
In major Korean universities, you see more classes and lectures taught not only in Korean but also in English ― regardless of the subject matter. And universities are hiring more professors who can teach in English no matter what their specialties are. For example, even when hiring biology professors, more and more universities are choosing candidates who can give lectures in English as well as in Korean.
One reason universities are putting more emphasis on professors' English skills is that there is a growing need for them to engage in international academic communities, interact with overseas scholars and publish their findings, geared toward an international audience.
Professors should be able to make presentations and write first-rate papers in English for international academic groups.
Korean scholars are doing excellent academic research, but unfortunately, a lot of them don't get the international recognition that they deserve because they have been neither published nor discussed in foreign academic journals. In this regard, we are lagging behind neighboring countries, including Japan and Singapore. Professors and scholars from those countries publish their research results in prominent international journals much more often.
Recently, when Seoul National University hired a professor in the field of Korean-language education, the candidate who got the final offer was not a Korean but a foreign national who specialized in Korean literature and education. They are hoping that more research papers on Korean language and literature will get published in international journals and find a new audience. In this case, it's part of an effort to globalize Korean literature and language.
Globalization in Regional Areas
There is also another element to Korea's globalization, one that's taking place away from major cities. As we talk about the ``globalization'' at ivory towers, let's also take a look at globalization in Korean society at large, and in regional areas. This way, we will get a more complete picture of our nation's globalization and where we are headed as a people and as a country.
It would be accurate to say that for the past 10 years, most transformational globalization movement in Korea has been taking place outside Seoul. We have a high number of workers and immigrants from our neighboring Southeast Asia and elsewhere. And they don't live in Apgujeong-dong.
So in this sense, embracing globalization in Korea means more Koreans, especially in government offices, studying and being able to speak Bahasa Indonesia, Thai and Vietnamese. When it comes to foreign languages, we need to study more than just English. In our globalizing nation, we also need to study Southeast Asian and African languages.
Our universities can play an important role by focusing more on these countries and teaching their languages and cultures. I think that would have to be an integral part of Korean universities' globalization effort.
One outward sign of Korean universities' continuing globalization is the increased enrollment of foreign-national students. And our top universities are also recruiting more top-tier professors from overseas. And we see reports there are now more than 60,000 foreign students enrolled in Korea's university system. This is one sign that our country and our university system have become more internationally competitive.
Foreign Student Enrollment
But on the other side, just the raw number of foreign students in Korea is not a sufficient indicator of how globalized our universities are. That's because in some cases, schools accept foreign students who may not have all the necessary qualifications. Some schools do this just so that they can generate more tuition income. Schools should stay away from that kind of commercialization because it is not really going to improve our universities.
In addition to looking at how many foreign students are enrolled, we should also look at what contributions these students are making in our schools. In terms of attracting foreign students, universities should also spend more energy enrolling qualified graduate-level students.
Meeting Society's Needs
We should look at where our society is headed in terms of globalization and see whether our universities are meeting the social demand. Nowadays, we often use the terms multicultural and multilingual, but we should take time to accurately understand what their implications are for Korea's future and our globalization.
Universities are often referred to as ``ivory towers,'' where scholars conduct academic research removed from the everyday life. But in reality, universities should also focus on developing talented workers who will fulfill the needs of our changing, globalizing society. Universities should nurture an atmosphere where such talents can be developed. Universities and society should be more linked, more closely interconnected.
Here is one way that universities and society can help each other in our globalization effort. The central and regional governments should hire more employees who can assist foreign immigrants working and living in Korea. This is an especially urgent issue in regional government offices.
Testing English language proficiency is one thing, but even in areas where there are lots of workers from other Asian nations or even Africa, there are very few government office employees who can effectively communicate with them and address their needs. In Yongin, Gyeonggi Providence, for example, there is no employee at any regional government offices who can speak Indonesian or Vietnamese. This is a major problem. These regional offices often turn to local civic organizations or to universities for assistance in interpretation. A lot of times, civic organizations and universities volunteer, and other times they get paid for their effort by the government.
But we need a more long-term, coordinated approach to this. It would help a great deal if government offices, especially the regional offices, were allowed to hire more language specialists who can liaise with local foreign immigrants and laborers so that the government can better address their needs. Local governments could hire foreign nationals who can also speak the Korean language or they can hire Korean university graduates who have specialized language skills
There are numerous immigrants and workers in regional areas. And their numbers are growing. For instance, earlier this month, there was a soccer game event organized by immigrants in Daegu. The event attracted thousands and thousands of Southeast Asian workers.
So the local governments need to take specific policy steps to help foreign workers and immigrants, safeguard their rights, address their concerns and also make sure that they abide by the law. That would be an important part of Korea's globalization effort. But at the moment, government offices just don't have the staff to do it correctly.