SOUTH KOREA: Foreign institutions face inspections

Foreign branch campuses and Korean institutions that admit foreign students will be included in inspections of universities in the first stage of a wide-ranging restructuring of South Korea's higher education sector after widespread student protests over soaring tuition fees in May and June.

The government has said as many as 15% of the worst-performing universities will be forced to close or merge if they do not meet strict criteria under the new assessments of all Korean institutions due to begin in September.

Assessments will be conducted of both private and public universities, although slightly different criteria will apply. Private universities make up around 80% of institutions.

The main evaluation criteria will include the number of full-time rather than part-time faculty, graduate employment rates, the rate of increase in tuition fees, and how easily institutions fill student places at the beginning of each academic year

The government has said it will link subsidies that will allow institutions to lower tuition fees to the progress each institution makes in carrying out reforms.

"If we are to solve the tuition fee problem we need to make universities more competitive," Education Minister Lee Ju-ho told university presidents in June.

Referring to ongoing 'structural adjustments' already imposed on a dozen private institutions, he said: "Powerful structural adjustment is already underway at private universities. National [public] universities need to share some of their pain in response, to the extent of undergoing shrinkage."

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Seoul informed University World News that "a comprehensive assessment" of foreign institutions that have set up in Korea or are planning to set up, would also be carried out. Under the restructuring programme, additional measures will apply to these institutions.

The exact assessment criteria for international institutions are being researched by the Korea Education Development Institute and others. But broadly, they will take into account an institution's international reputation, its management plans, the way it attracts and pays faculty, and the quality and provision of its academic programmes, the ministry said.

"The principle is to attract globally renowned foreign educational institutions selectively and make them provide high quality education themselves," the ministry said.

"On top of that, to protect the rights of students to study, the government has come up with additional measures for constant quality assurance of...foreign institutions, and will implement the measure eventually."

Inspections of both branch campuses and Korean institutions enrolling foreign students will include assessments of the management and care of international students, in order to prevent poorly-performing institutions using foreign student enrolments purely to drum up more income from tuition fees.

Inspections will include facilities and cultural programmes on offer. But it was unlikely that 'failing' branch campuses would be shut down as easily as is being proposed for Korean institutions.

Foreign branch campuses and educational institutions in free economic zones (FEZs) such as the Incheon FEZ, which is hoping to attract at least half a dozen international universities to its Songdo campus currently being constructed, have guarantees in place to prevent the 'abrupt closure' of institutions, for example due to university management failures.

The government will not approve the establishing of a foreign institution unless the institution can make sure students "can finish the course and receive the certification of graduation from the mother school when the institution goes through liquidation," protecting students in the event that the university performs badly under the assessment.

The government has also said it would provide initial support in the early stages of branch campuses being set up to ease problems during the start-up period.

* See also Yojana Sharma's article, "SOUTH KOREA: Difficult decisions face branch campuses", in the Features section.

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