SOUTH KOREA: Global campus for foreign universities

An innovative foreign higher education park scheme in South Korea is set to proceed, even though the worldwide recession has caused some overseas universities to postpone plans to locate branches at the Songdo Global University Campus, or SGUC.

The scheme is located in a free trade area, the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ). Helena Jung, its project manager, explained the campus would "not actually be an independent university", rather "a university complex where foreign universities are located together", built by the Incheon authorities rather than the universities themselves.

Each university will grant its own degrees to students and be responsible for its own academic administration. But a special independent administration would manage campus facilities.

The IFEZ authorities want to attract 10 foreign university branches, each providing "their most competent academic programmes". As a result, "the campus will be able to act as a comprehensive university as a whole," said Jung.

Also, South Korea's Yonsei University has located its international campus at Songdo, next to SGUC. "We expect, therefore, an active exchange between the Yonsei international campus and foreign universities in SGUC," Jung added.

But for this to happen, overseas universities will have to establish themselves in the zone. And this process has been knocked and delayed by the recession.

The US' North Carolina State University is one such hopeful. It signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in October 2007, outlining its intention to offer undergraduate and graduate programmes focusing on life sciences and engineering at SGUC.

But it has put the project on hold. North Carolina State announced in June 2010 that entering SGUC "is not optimal in light of the pressures the university faces in a difficult budget climate", said a university communiqué. That said, the university would maintain a relationship with South Korean planning authorities.

Meanwhile, Virginia-based George Mason University is currently considering conducting undergraduate classes in business management and economics at the global campus.

A spokesperson said: "Mason is actively evaluating the possibility of establishing undergraduate and graduate programmes at Songdo. The evaluation process will be complete by mid-2011. The Incheon location is exciting. It would open new opportunities for students, faculty and units in a dynamic region of the world." Mason is working towards a Songdo student body of 2,000 to 3,000.

Kyoung-Oh Lee, director of administration and team leader in the office of international affairs at Yonsei University, explained: "Songdo is a kind of test board for inviting foreign universities to [South] Korea. Therefore, there might be some barriers or delays. However the local and central government will work successfully in order to launch SGUC as scheduled.

"It is the first case in Korea, so we are paying extra attention to the development of SGUC."

Construction of the campus started in 2009 and, if all goes according to plan, classes should be on offer there from the autumn semester this year.

That is because other institutes are still on board. According to South Korea's Ministry of Knowledge Economy, the State University of New York at Stony Brook (also known as Stony Brook University) will open a campus at Songdu this year, offering graduate-level courses in computer science, information system engineering and technology management.

The University of Southern California signed a memorandum of agreement in 2008 and is expected to offer undergraduate programmes at SGUC in the 2011-12 academic year. In 2013, Belgium's Ghent University will offer undergraduate courses in biotechnology, environmental technology and food technology.

"Yonsei University has also recently signed an MoU with the California Institute of Arts to open joint programmes in a couple of years at Songdo," said Lee.

"In addition, we expect to see several more foreign university campuses opening in South Korea in the near future. We signed MoUs and/or contracts with the University of Missouri, University of Utah and University of Surrey, UK," added Jung.

She pointed out: "South Korea already has two foreign university campuses in the southern part of the nation. They are the Netherlands Shipping and Transport College Korea campus and the Friedrich-Alexander University of Germany. The Netherlands college opened in 2008 and the German university recently started to attract students from across the country and world."

The IFEZ, just 20 kilometres from the capital Seoul, was created in August 2003 as "an international industrial city which guarantees tax support, free economic activity, high-quality administrative services, and a comfortable and convenient living environment".

It includes Incheon International Airport, Incheon Port, the city of Songdo, Yeongjeong island and Cheongna city, and covers 209 square kilometres.

Jung said: "To attract foreign universities, we [the IFEZ] provide support funds for their preparation activities before the opening of the campus. After they open campus, we provide campus facilities including faculty houses free of charge and support funds for their operation in the beginning stage."

Lee said: "Korea, especially Incheon, is a new prospective educational hub like Dubai and Singapore. Incheon is the third largest city in Korea.... There is also a lot of local support from IFEZ for implementing foreign institutions there."

Jung also noted: "South Korea is well-known as the country with one of the highest demands for advanced educational services in the world. More than 80% of Korean high school [students] go on to study in universities and other post-secondary educational institutions."

She argued that Incheon International Airport's ability to "reach over 50 cities with populations of one million or more within three hours" is a drawing card for foreign students and academics.

Dr Kristiaan Versluys, director of educational affairs at the University of Ghent, said it was offering courses in South Korea because it is "of great strategic importance to have a foothold in a part of the world that is in full expansion.

"It [Ghent] hopes to attract students from all over Korea and neighbouring regions and to set up a close working relationship with IFEZ, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, the University of Incheon and other academic and industrial partners."

Ghent University has conducted a preliminary feasibility study into the idea. The results showed a branch campus in Songdo would be viable.