South Korea continues support for higher education

South Korea has allocated around US$51 million to assist Africa over the next two years in carrying out human resource development projects, including growing the continent’s scientific workforce, preparing higher education reform strategies and designing education policy.

This was outlined in a joint declaration released after the Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation Ministerial Conference, or KOAFEC, held under the theme 'Sharing Today, Shining Tomorrow' in Seoul from 15-18 October.

The conference was co-organised by Korea's Ministry of Strategy and Finance, Korea Eximbank and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Korea's action plan for higher education

"Korea has invested heavily in quality education and the development of its human resources, particularly at the tertiary level. In this regard, Korea will assist Africa in formulating appropriate educational policy measures and devising strategies for reforms on the education system," the declaration stated.

“Specifically, Korea is determined to support African universities to expand campus facilities and to share its expertise in the area of vocational training that targets specific skills, relevant to the job market, which will in turn lead to poverty reduction.”

With the objective of cultivating next-generation leaders in the field of information and communication technology, or ICT, Korea will increase the scope of the Next African Leader Programme (NALP) through a scholarship initiative. NALP provides courses in ICT and economic development policy – an area in which Korea is globally competitive.

As a prerequisite for improving African countries’ research capacities and strengthening networks between institutions, the declaration states that Africa and Korea remain committed to supporting the Education Research Award programme, designed to support outstanding education researchers and research institutions in Africa.

They also agreed on the need to enhance agricultural productivity in African countries through modernisation, research into agricultural technologies and human resource development.

Africa and Korea adopted the KOAFEC Action Plan 2013-14 and pledged to work in close partnership to implement the agreed projects, according to the declaration.

Korea's role in African higher education

Speaking to University World News, Belinda Chesire of the partnerships and cooperation unit at Tunisia-based AfDB said:

"The Korean government is providing support to African countries in the area of ICT, including masters scholarships to African students who benefit from two-year programmes in Korea, education research awards via the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), and training programmes in ICT."

According to KOAFEC action plans, in the past five years Korea has shared expertise with Africa by organising training and workshops across all regions including, for example, a consulting programme on science, a technology development plan for Egypt and Ethiopia, and research on a vision for Africa's development.

Korea has also supported human resource development strategies by sharing experiences with Kenya, Algeria and Zimbabwe, and has developed a national information strategy and action plan for Cote d'Ivoire.

“We think that Africa should draw inspiration from the Korean experience, not to copy it in every detail but to build education systems that are appropriate to Africa’s realities,” Korea’s Vice Minister of Education Sang-Jin Lee said in February at an Africa-Korea ‘day of dialogue’, when he also announced that Korea would join the ADEA steering committee.

To help in providing young and unskilled African workers with greater access to training and education, Korea has also established advanced technology centres and vocational training centres.

Analysing Korea-Africa cooperation

Sadallah Boubaker-Khaled, a professor of mathematics at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Algiers, told University World News: "It is better to start this project with African countries that have adequately prepared for this cooperation, as implementing the project within two years is very challenging in the difficult African circumstances.”

Khaled suggested that Africa should diversify cooperation with various countries, in order to benefit from the continent’s unique experiences and to ensure it did not become dependent on a particular country.

Zen Parry, a researcher at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and the author of a 2011 report titled The Higher Education Sector in Korea: What you see is not always what you get, also raised questions around the plan.

"Two years is not an easy time frame to make gains on this type of investment, especially with a view towards sustainability. Generally the investment level appears quite small when compared to similar corporate investments for other sectors and some NGO programmes.

“It is difficult to get a clear picture of what South Korea wants from this relationship – and the same can be asked of Africa," Parry told University World News.

"Africa and other emerging nations can learn from the South Korean experience of implementing substantive initiatives to generate growth in the education sector," he said.

“What South Korea has accomplished in a relatively short time frame is inspirational on many levels, but it is a model untested outside of that environment, and some of the details do require discretion."

However, Parry argued, while South Korea is a homogeneous culture, Africa is not. “So it is difficult to ascertain how South Korean education policies based on a unified cultural perspective will be applicable to the African environment, which is remarkably diverse at all levels – economically, politically and demographically etc.”

She pointed out that South Korea is a “very recent player in the transnational education sector” and will benefit by establishing exchanges with other nations where research, internationalised educational practices and student experiences can be shared.

The way forward

The AfDB’s Chesire said: "In terms of next steps, the bank and Korea are holding discussions to determine the exact scope of increased cooperation in this area.

“Besides the multilateral window, the Republic of Korea is also providing direct bilateral support to African countries in higher education and the details are yet to be determined after consultations with the beneficiaries."

Argued Parry: "What South Korea is successful at is creating a system for South Koreans – so the real test will be if this system translates outside of that specific South Korean environment.

"The higher education cooperation between South Korea as a small country and Africa as a continent will be interesting to watch," he concluded.