When it comes to North Korea “most of what gets published in the media is total rubbish”, according to Hazel Smith, director of the International Institute of Korean Studies at the University of Central Lancashire.
Uclan is contributing to serious analysis of the state by creating the UK’s first master’s course on the study of North Korea within the IKSU – indeed it will be the first such course anywhere in the world outside South Korea.
Professor Smith, who lived in North Korea for two years while working for the United Nations World Food Programme and Unicef, said that there is a “mass of data” on conditions inside the country, but “you don’t find people are using it very much…because of the trivialisation of the reporting on North Korea, globally”.
The North Korea MA comes in the context of a long-term commitment to language study and internationalisation by Uclan, said Professor Smith, who joined the university 18 months ago after posts as professor of international security at Cranfield University and professor of international relations at the University of Warwick.
Uclan taught Japanese and Chinese for 20 years within its “huge languages department”, before putting about £1 million of its own resources into setting up Korean studies three years ago, she said.
When it comes to internationalisation through branch campuses, Uclan has had a less than rosy experience owing to its stumbling attempts to set up outposts abroad.
But on languages, Professor Smith said that Uclan had “bucked the trend” for UK universities to cut provision, as part of a programme of internationalisation of curricula started by Malcolm McVicar, the former vice-chancellor.
The work of the IKSU covers fields such as the study of Korean language, culture and politics through research, teaching and public policy activity. Uclan is now “only the third university in the country that offers Korean [language] to degree level for a full degree”, Professor Smith said, the others being the University of Sheffield and Soas, University of London.
She added that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office was “very supportive” of the IKSU “because it sees Korea as increasingly important for the UK overall in trade and economic terms”. The South Korean foreign office is also supportive, as it feels that “Korea doesn’t really get the attention worldwide that it ought to, given its economic weight”.
The number of students wanting to study at the IKSU has “surprised everybody”, said Professor Smith, stating that one factor behind the predominantly British and European young entrants is the increasing worldwide interest “in contemporary Korean culture, particularly K-pop”, as South Korean pop music is termed.
So did the success of Psy’s Gangnam Style lead to a spike in applications? “I don’t want to get technical, but Gangnam Style is not really K-pop,” Professor Smith said.
The North Korea MA, which will launch either this autumn or the next, will be a “rigorous social science-based degree”, she said. The nation is worthy of study not just in itself, she argued, but as “the key security issue for the whole of East Asia…It’s at the heart of foreign policy for Japan, for China, for South Korea, obviously, and for the United States”.
So problematic are the relations between North and South Korea that the demilitarised zone dividing the two was described as the “scariest place on Earth” by former US president Bill Clinton.
Professor Smith said of coverage of North Korea: “All the jokey stuff in the news and sensationalist stuff might sell newspapers but it doesn’t help policy analysts, whether they are working in international organisations, in governments, or banks…understand both North Korea and the relationships North Korea has…in the region.”
She described North Korea studies as “a big absence actually in academia”, beyond South Korea.
Her own time living in the North “enabled me to start to see where the data was and to realise that it’s a complete myth that there’s no data on North Korea”, she said.
As a result of the presence of international organisations such as Unicef, the World Bank and the World Health Organization since the famine of the 1990s, there are “masses of data on social and economic indicators” such as infant mortality, incidence of immunisation and agriculture, said Professor Smith.
She hoped that Uclan’s MA would “get the students to, first of all know where the knowledge is, so they can go for it; and secondly have the critical skills to be able to analyse it for themselves and to analyse reporting on North Korea for themselves”.
£1 million – Uclan’s investment in setting up Korean studies at the institution
Royal Agricultural University
The Prince of Wales presented graduates with their degrees and talked about the challenges of feeding a growing global population sustainably when he attended a university’s convocation ceremony. The Prince, who has been president of the Royal Agricultural University since 1982, awarded degrees to students from the School of Agriculture, Food and Environment and addressed the convocation at a ceremony in Cirencester Parish Church. Chris Gaskell, the university’s principal, said that it had made “a very special day for our students, and Cirencester, even more memorable”.
Harper Adams University
Edible bugs were among the attractions as an agri-food university caught people’s attention at the Royal Welsh Show. Harper Adams University was at the show to meet potential students along with industry representatives. An Edible Bug Challenge proved a “huge hit” with visitors, “enticing them to sample a range of freeze-dried insects including mealworms and locusts”. The challenge will travel to a total of 10 shows and events across the country with the aim of raising awareness of the benefits of insects as a food source.
University of Sheffield
A European consortium including a UK university has successfully tested a bombproof lining for aircraft luggage holds. The Fly-Bag system, developed by a team including the University of Sheffield, successfully resisted several test blasts on real planes. This suggests that holds may be able to contain the force of an explosion if a device hidden in a passenger’s luggage detonates, as it did in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. The flexible lining is based on a combination of fabrics with high strength and heat resistance.
Nottingham Trent University
A researcher has identified a new breed of male shopper that could be even more obsessed with appearance and health than the so-called metrosexual. According to Daniel Easters, senior lecturer in fashion management, marketing and communication at Nottingham Trent University, the 25- to 34-year-old “vetrosexual” is interested not only in fashion, grooming and the gym but also in friends, family and even housework. According to a book he has co-authored, Vetrosexual – Fashion's Most Important New Shopper, the primary concern of the demographic is to stay young.
Cranfield University has started building a £35 million aerospace research centre to help it develop cleaner and quieter aircraft. The university has collaborated with Airbus and Rolls-Royce to create the Aerospace Integration Research Centre, which will comprise an open laboratory, presentation space, simulation facilities and office space for researchers and engineers. The university hopes that the centre will develop new technologies in order to improve the performance, emission control and efficiency targets of aircraft.
University of Hertfordshire/Imperial College London
Researchers have discovered a new type of fungal virus that can cause aspergillosis – a disease that targets the lungs and can spread through the bloodstream causing widespread organ damage. Robert Coutts, Leverhulme research fellow in the School of Life and Medical Sciences at the University of Hertfordshire, and Ioly Kotta-Loizou, research associate at Imperial College London, led the study. They hope that the virus might eventually be used to develop a tool to switch off fungal genes, in order to find out how the virus causes the disease in humans.
University of Oxford
A university has launched a new master’s degree in sleep medicine. The online course, offered by the University of Oxford’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, is due to start in October 2016. It leads to a postgraduate diploma or master of science degree and is targeted at medical professionals with an interest in sleep disorders, such as nurse practitioners, dentists and consultants. Russell Foster, the director of the institute, said that currently the average medic “receives half an hour of training on sleep and sleep disorders across their entire education”.
Plymouth University/University of Exeter
Watching aquaria and fish tanks could benefit physical and mental well-being, according to research. The study, conducted at the National Marine Aquarium by researchers from Plymouth University and the University of Exeter, found that people viewing aquaria had a reduction in blood pressure and heart rate. Deborah Cracknell, PhD student at the NMA and lead researcher on the project, said that this is the first study to provide “robust evidence” that exposure to underwater settings can affect well-being.