CANADA: An academic abroad, in Korea

The global scope of scientific discovery suggests that academic life is the same the world over, writes York University associate professor Thomas R Klassen in the latest edition of the Canadian journal Academic Matters. In an age when university faculty regularly communicate and collaborate with colleagues in other countries, publish in the same journals and might teach exchange students from any number of continents, it is easy to believe that universities are uniform in all developed nations. However, a year spent on research leave at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, shattered this notion.

Klassen, of the Department of Political Science and the School of Public Policy and Administration at York, was a visiting professor in the Department of Public Administration at Yonsei University during 2006 and 2007. He continues in Academic Matters to describe an education system that is “a unique blend of formality and competition” and where university professors have high social status, are “viewed as role models for citizenship and ethical behaviour”, easily move between the academy and government or the private sector and are treated with great warmth and respect by their students.

Quantitative ranking imbues education in Korea, Klassen writes, from test-focused student and graduate selection processes, focus on journal articles rather than books or chapters (because they are easily quantified and ranked) to the informal ranking of universities. Competition is fierce among both faculty and students to join the more elite universities, and students planning an academic career with tenure invest in obtaining graduate education overseas, especially in the US. In Klassen’s host department all dozen faculty members were male, had attended two top Korean universities and all had completed doctoral studies in the US or UK (one out of 12). Women’s universities are another remarkable feature of higher education in Korea, along with an “extraordinary degree of passion for education”.
Full article on the Academic Matters site