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South Korea - Higher Education

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Higher education institutions are increasingly diversified. In addition to regular undergraduate programs, there are industrial universities, universities of education, junior colleges, the Air and Correspondence University, technical colleges, seminaries, and other schools that students attend after graduating from high school. Military, Naval, and Air Force Academies provide leadership in national defense. Medicine and law are studied at regular universities. All college level programs last four years except for medicine and dentistry, which require six. All (except for KAIST, which reports to MOST) are under the jurisdiction of MOE, which controls such matters as student quotas, qualification of teaching staff, curricula, and degree requirements. For other matters, universities comply with decisions made by a consortium called the Council for Higher Education. Deans and presidents of national and public universities are appointed by the president on the minister of education's recommendation. The presidents of private universities are elected by the boards of trustees, which are subject to the approval of MOE. As of 1998, there were 350 institutions of higher learning with a total of 2.95 million students, taught by 5,410 faculty members.

Regular Colleges & Universities: In 1994 universities were allowed to decide their own school affairs, including the calendar and graduation requirements, and incrementally were given more control over student quotas. In 1996, the government granted autonomy to seven provincial universities with the most superior educational conditions. The objectives of the new education system, as laid out by PCER, include full autonomy by higher educational institutions, while the necessary support for high quality research is provided by the government (1997, 23).

Each university sets the requirements for each credit (usually one semester hour), the minimum credits necessary for graduation, and the number of credits students may carry per semester. The curriculum consists of general and professional courses and includes required and elective courses.

To help universities diversify, as each carry different strengths, government grants have been increased. Furthermore, the government has made it possible for private foundations to establish small, specialized colleges, graduate schools, and universities. Seventeen such colleges were approved in 1996.

Government financial support for universities has increased to 1,013.6 billion won in 1996 from 329.7 billion won in 1993. With the introduction of post-doctoral training, government research grants also increased to 90 billion won in 1996 from 27.2 billion won in 1993. The support has been unevenly distributed, depending on in stitutions' and individuals' performance.


Junior Colleges: Junior colleges, providing two or three years of postsecondary education, were established in 1979 to educate and train mid-level technicians. As of 1999 there were 161 junior colleges with an enrollment of 589,720. Emphasis is on practical education, including hands-on training, in close cooperation with industry through internships. Students concentrate on their specialties in preparation for the National Certification Examination. They can major in humanities and social studies, natural sciences, engineering, arts and physical education, nursing, clinical pathology, physical therapy, radiology, dental and other medical technology, mechanics courses, or aquaculture.

Junior vocational colleges emphasize practical education, but it is not necessarily an endpoint. Students who so wish could continue their education at the university level. For employed students, junior colleges provide channels for continued education.


Graduate Schools: The purpose of graduate education is to offer an in-depth study of a specialized field and to enhance creativity and leadership in academic research. The Education Law stipulates that, to be called a university, an institution must have at least one graduate school. As of 2001, there are 115 academic graduate schools, 8 professional graduate schools, 514 evening special graduate schools (including 14 special graduate schools established in industrial universities), and 15 independent graduate schools without undergraduate programs.

The minimum requirement for a master's degree is 24 semester credits, as well as a required thesis, in most cases; students normally finish in 4 semesters. The minimum requirement for a doctoral degree is a doctoral dissertation after completing 60 credits of coursework, which is usually completed in 3 academic years. Doctoral candidates must first complete the required credits and pass two foreign language examinations and a comprehensive examination before writing their dissertations (MOE).


Enrollment: The enrollment rate for higher education was 68.8 percent of 18 to 21 year olds in 1997. As of 1999, higher education students numbered 3,154,245—400 times the number of 7,819 in 1945. The total would be much higher were more spots available for higher education, especially at prestigious schools in Seoul. The college entrance examination is fiercely competitive, and Korea is probably the only country in which numbers of applicants to specific schools are announced daily by public media during the application period, as candidates are frantically calculating the probability of their matriculation at choice institutions.


Admissions Procedures: As students compete fiercely for limited college spots, studying for tests is far more important than trying to build one's character. In a major reform program, MOE thus proposed a new college entrance system called the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) to root out these problems and to cultivate students' individual talents and characteristics. The CSAT has three versions, one for students on the humanities track, the science track, and the sports and arts tracks.

The new system has been conceived under the slogan of "diversification, specialization, and professionalization," which allows each university or college to develop its own admissions criteria. Each may require varying application materials from students to determine their talents, such as School Activities Records, essays, interviews, and letters of recommendation. Applicants with unusual circumstances, such as living in a rural area or fishing village, being an orphan, or winning prizes at concerts, may receive preference. This reform measure is intended to enhance creative and professional human resources, to ensure more flexible primary and secondary schooling, and to lessen the need for private tutoring.

The college entrance system has become a public issue, especially since the disappearance of entrance examinations for secondary schools. College admission policies have been changed more than 10 times since 1945. Initially (1945-1953), college admission was based uniquely on applicants' national test scores; later, high school grades were also considered. These criteria have put tremendous pressure on students and their parents, as whole families go through "examination hell." Students concentrate all their energy on test preparation, and families sacrifice much time and money to support their college preparatory students, trying to improve the study environment, provide private tutoring, and help in other ways.

Since the early 1990s, higher educational institutions have generally used "total" or "comprehensive entrance examination scores," which include the results of aptitude tests and students' high school profiles. Until then, college admission was largely based on individual schools' achievement tests. In 1988, MOE embarked on reforming the college entrance examination system to reflect changes in the educational and social environments. In 1993, MOE started to administer the CSAT once a year nationally in an effort to provide reliable and objective data in selecting students for colleges and universities, hoping to improve the quality of high school education as a result (KICE). Since 1998, electives have been added, including mathematics, sciences, and foreign languages besides English. In general, the CSAT score is one of the most important pieces of data for college level admission, counting 40 percent of the total scores in the decision process.

To promote the autonomy of higher educational institutions and to reform examination oriented high school education, a new entrance examination system went into effect in 1994. Public institutions obligatorily weighted high school grades at 40 percent but were allowed leeway concerning the CSAT and their own entrance examinations. As of 2002, the Korean Military Academy most heavily weighs CSAT scores (70 percent) in admissions, along with high school activity record (20 percent) and interview (10 percent).

A special policy applies to foreigners and Korean nationals returning from a sojourn of longer than two years abroad. Each college or university may admit 2 to 10 percent of total incoming students from this pool; in 2000, 5,249 students at 127 colleges and universities benefited. Each institution sets its own criteria, but in general these students are exempt from certain subjects or allowed a lower passing score for such courses. Usually, subjects tested include Korean, mathematics, foreign languages, and expository writing (essay), with interviews part of the selection process. Information on this policy's implementation by institutions is collected and published by MOE and distributed to embassies, consulates, and overseas Korean schools (MOE).


Korean Studies: Koreans have been studying Western culture and scholarship with ardor since the end of the nineteenth century, but since their liberation from the Japanese and with their increased status on the world stage, interest in Korean culture, history, and intellectual and political life has steadily grown both within and outside Korea.

With this in mind, the Academy of Korean Studies, a graduate school for a select group of highly specialized Korean studies fields, was founded on 30 June 1978. Through its publications and numerous national and international conferences and workshops, the Academy has been critical to internationalizing the field of Korean studies. As of 1998, the Academy had graduated 349 master's degree candidates and 87 doctoral degree candidates in 7 fields—philosophy and religion; history; arts; language, literature, and classical studies; society and folklore; politics and economics; and education and ethics. As of 2001, some 60 students were enrolled in each of the Academy's master's and Ph.D. programs.

The government has supported many universities abroad that offer courses in Korean language and studies. As of 2001, some 167 universities and research institutes in 37 countries conduct research in Korean studies. The Korean government developed the Korean [Language] Proficiency Test (KPT) for foreigners and overseas Koreans. A total of 1,722 people passed the first test, administered in 1997. In 1999, the test was given in seven countries.

As of 2001, Korea has bilateral agreements with some 80 countries. The government has also been an active participant in exchange programs initiated by international organizations, including APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), and UNESCO. The Korean National Commission for UNESCO has also been active in promoting international cultural understanding and exchanges of personnel, hosting international conferences and training programs, and supporting the exchange of academics, professionals, and students.


Students Abroad: For decades, Koreans have thought their education was not really complete without study abroad. In 1999, there were 154,219 students studying abroad: 96,778 in North America, 20,577 in Europe, 36,552 in Asia-Pacific countries, 138 in Africa, and 174 in South America (MOE). The United States continues to lead in popularity, but Koreans' foreign study destinations have become diversified. As of 1999, the share of those who went to the United States to study was 27.81 percent, considerably lower than 1997's rate of 42.9 percent. Even so, as of 2000, the 41,191 Korean students studying at American colleges and universities made up 8 percent of all international students studying in America and ranked fourth after those from China, Japan, and India (Open Doors).

Previously students generally completed their basic education through college or at least high school in Korea and went abroad for higher degrees. As the government relaxed its control on students going abroad, however, demand for overseas studies has grown so much that even young children are sent away from home to start their education early, albeit in only insignificant numbers.

It is no longer uncommon for precollege students to go abroad to study. Since September 2000, youth study abroad has been limited to middle school graduates only. From March 1999 to February 2000, some 11,237 precollege students went to study abroad, mainly in the United States. In 2000, more than 20,000 precollege students studied abroad, usually at their own expense. Since 2000, the government has provided 70 college graduates evidencing outstanding achievement with full scholarships—$18,200 per year for two to three years—to study at overseas institutes of higher learning. In addition, a fellowship of $38,000 per year per person for 3 years was available for those in doctoral programs at overseas institutions. Furthermore, elementary and secondary schoolteachers have also been given additional opportunities for overseas training and short term study tours. The number of students going abroad on government scholarships between 1977 and 1999 amounted to 1,639 (MOE). The Korea Research Foundation is usually responsible for facilitating research and activities for scholars and students who wish to study abroad.

To help students returning from abroad reintegrate into domestic schools (elementary, middle, and high schools), international schools have been established in Seoul.


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