South Korea’s Ministry of Education has been accused of encouraging universities to launch “ghettoised” courses for foreign students after it announced a new strategy to achieve its goal of attracting 200,000 overseas students by 2023.
The ministry said that it would push to revise the higher education law to allow universities and colleges in the country to create specialised departments or courses consisting of only foreign students, according to The Korea Herald. These would be in fields in which South Korea is a high achiever, such as shipping and information technology.
As part of the plans, the ministry said that more state-run foreign student service centres would be set up to support international students during their stay, and regional dormitories housing students from a number of universities in a particular area would be built.
The ministry told The Korea Herald that it is still negotiating with the Ministry of Strategy and Finance on the budget for the measures, but that this will be finalised next month.
The proposals are designed to help the government achieve its target of increasing the proportion of international students among the general student population to 5 per cent by 2023, up from 2 per cent in 2014, and to increase foreign student spending from 796 billion won (£432 million) to 1.5 trillion won by 2020.
Government data show that the number of international students in South Korea has declined since 2011, when it peaked at 89,537. There were 84,891 foreign students in the country last year, dropping from 85,923 in 2013.
However, the plan for specific courses for foreign students has received criticism from leading academics in international education who argued that international students should integrate with, not be isolated from, domestic students.
Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, said that the proposal “flies in the face of current thinking about effective international education policy” and is “not only unlikely to succeed but is bad policy”.
“If South Korea is planning on earning significant income from international enrolment, it is not at all assured that sufficient numbers will be attracted, and, in fact, recent trends are down,” he said.
“More importantly, setting up ‘ghettoised’ programmes for foreigners flies in the face of current thinking about effective international education policy.
“The idea is to ensure that international students have a chance to interact with domestic students so that mutual learning can take place.”
He added that internationalisation, including incoming overseas student numbers, is one of the metrics for many world university rankings, suggesting that the proposals are in part driven by a desire for South Korea to achieve a higher score in league tables.
Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, said that it is important that institutions “allow access to the wider offerings of the university for those international students fluent enough in the local language to do so”.
However, he added that the Ministry of Education has also introduced a number of effective initiatives to allow international students to take part in South Korean higher education, including “offering scholarships and increasing the number of courses taught in English, improving study and living conditions for foreign students, building efficient administrative support systems, and offering long- and short-term exchange programmes”.
“Enrolling international students, as the US has already experienced, has a positive impact on the domestic students, in broadening the classroom dialogue and internationalising the campus community,” he said.
Gerard Postiglione, director of the Wah Ching Centre of Research on Education in China at the University of Hong Kong, said that South Korea’s proposals are not related to university rankings as it “already has top tier universities” (it has nine institutions in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-15), but instead is about “following the global patterns of internationalisation”.
“Japan set a target of 100,000 [overseas students at its universities] about 10 years ago and finally attained that before extending it further.
“There is every reason to think that South Korea will be successful. It has good universities and a third of its academic staff [have] doctorates from the United States alone. Much of its academic staff, although mostly of Korean heritage, are international in their education and collaborative outreach.”