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Korean universities need to strengthen global competitiveness.

The most important characteristic of Korea's higher education policy in the 2000s is internationalization. Korea wanted to work toward internationalization but also, internationalization was extremely necessary for the country.

The reason why Korea showed interest in internationalization in the area of education is due to the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the spread of free trade agreements (FTA). The two trends allowed the country to open up its education sector to foreign players. Korea's international status and economic power were raised and universities started to show more interest in globalization and international competitiveness.

The Korean government's policy vision is to strengthen international competitiveness in higher education and cultivate global talent. In 2015, the Korean government announced plans to attract more international students through upgrading the Study Korea 2020 project. Korea plans to attract 200,000 international students by 2023 and create various internationalization models for domestic universities.

By strengthening the global competitiveness of Korean universities, Korea will be able to absorb the demand for Korean students to study abroad and provide opportunities for education in Korea. At the same time, Korea intends to revitalize domestic universities' entry into other countries.

The reason why Korea had no choice but to work toward internationalization is due to the sudden drop in the school-age population. In 2017, the birthrate hit 1.05, which is the lowest since 2005 when it was 1.08. Second, the university entrance rate, which is a representative indicator of the Korean people's will for education, is also rapidly falling. After peaking at 83.8 percent in 2008, it dropped below 70 percent in 2016, which has not happened for 18 years.

Last year, it was 68.9 percent. As of 2017, the universities' student enrolment capacity exceeded the number of high school graduates. Third, days when university diplomas guaranteed employment have ended. Since the financial crisis in 2008, the number of young unemployed increased and more people began to be skeptical about college education. Fourth, due to the decline in the school-age population, Korean universities needed to attract foreign students to overcome financial difficulties and increase the number of students.

Although higher education in Korea has grown overall, the level of internationalization and competitiveness of Korean universities is still insufficient compared with advanced countries. Currently, about 60 percent out of 100,000 Korean students are Chinese students, which shows how biased other countries are. The internationalization of Korean universities is mainly focused on memorandums of understating (MOUs) and there is no real exchange. They are focused on foreign exchange and attracting foreign students.

When looking at the actual curriculums and the programs, the proportion that foreign language courses and cooperation with foreign universities take are small. Internationalization of outbound forms such as internships and establishment of overseas branches of domestic universities are also insufficient. The absence of the government policy vision and passive internationalization of universities derived from the government's excessive control in this area are also problems.

Therefore, a new approach is needed by learning from past lessons. Here are some suggestions. First, the importance of local cities in this global era is growing. In addition to cooperation between central governments, sub-regional cooperation is also becoming more common. Local accessibility is easy and the connection between cities near the border area is becoming more critical. For example, sub-regional cooperation between Russia, Japan, China and South Korea can be established.

Customized education is needed. The international political environment is a hardware that is difficult to change. Also, most governments are under financial pressure and it is not easy for universities to receive special budget support from the government. However, it is not enough to complain and universities should work for best education even with minimum budgets. By considering the characteristics of different regions and cities, universities can carry out customized education through connecting with local governments and corporations.

Based on a specialized language education infrastructure, university education based on the characteristics of the region and the strengths of cities and universities should be provided. In this region, there are internationally important languages such Russian, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. The global language is English but second languages are absolutely important. Universities can train talented people by combining languages and majors.

In conclusion, universities must lead and deliver governments for successful implementation of national policies. There are many functions and roles of a university. It needs to be able to have a leading function by raising questions against and directing the society. It also needs to help with competition in the job market. In other words, it needs to catch several rabbits. To strengthen the global competitiveness of Korean universities, proactive proposals and practical actions of universities and scholars must be prepared.
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Apr 21, 2018
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