Best universities in South Korea 2019

Explore the best universities in South Korea determined by data collected by Times Higher Education

October 4 2018
Best universities in South Korea

South Korea is known as one of the four "Asian Tiger" economies, with an economy based on its fast-growing education, tech and tourism sectors. 

More and more students are choosing to study in South Korea, and the country has recently seen dramatic increases in foreign enrolments – from 11,000 in 2001 to more than 89,000 in 2011. The government has announced a plan to increase foreign enrolment to 200,000 by 2032 and is working hard to encourage even more students from America, Europe and Asia to study abroad in South Korea. If you're considering studying in South Korea, these are the best universities according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019.

A falling birth rate and a projected shortfall in domestic applicants, combined with a desire to foster strong international ties, are behind the government’s efforts. The government hopes to entice even more students to study abroad in South Korea by offering a range of financial incentives to institutions and individuals, streamlining student visa applications and providing employment support for students studying in South Korea who wish to stay on and work .

The new Incheon Global Campus outside Seoul is a partnership with universities from around the world offering degrees from the home university taught by faculty members based on-site in South Korea. By some estimates almost a third of university courses in South Korea are now taught in English with many universities offering new, dedicated international campuses.

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Top 5 universities in South Korea

1. Seoul National University

Considered one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in South Korea, Seoul National University (SNU) offers students a chance to study in the heart of the country’s bustling capital city. Seoul frequently ranks as one of the best cities in the world for higher education and SNU sits comfortably among the top universities in Asia.

The university has 16 colleges, a graduate school and 10 professional graduate schools offering hundreds of undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD courses. The main campus, Gwanak, is based in southern Seoul and consists of more than 200 buildings catering to thousands of students and staff and served by its own subway station. The university’s Yongon campus, based just north of the Han River is home to the main branch of the Seoul National University Hospital and the medical, nursing and dental schools.

A little way outside town, the Pyeong Chang Campus includes the Graduate School of International Agriculture as well as the Institute of Green Bio Science and Technology and the university’s own farm complex.

Famous alumni include former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, Song Sang-hyun former president of the International Criminal Court, and Lee Jong-wook who used to head the World Health Organization. The faculty also boasts Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen and Fields Medal winner Hironaka Heisuke.

2. Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)

Sungkyunkwan University was founded over 600 years ago and is the oldest university in East Asia. 

The university has two campuses: the humanities and social sciences campus in Seoul and the natural sciences campus in Suwon.

The university has academic exchange programmes and partnerships with 653 universities in 73 countries worldwide. It is also aiming to expand its dual degree programmes with many prestigious universities all around the world. Currently, SKKU is running 33 dual degree programmes with partners including MIT’s Schools of Engineering and Business, Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, Fudan University, Peking University, and the University of Birmingham.

SKKU also offers the first fully English-taught MBA programme in Korea. 

3. Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)

Set up by the government in 1971 with help from American advisers, KAIST was South Korea’s first research-led science and technology university. Based in the central city of Daejeon, the university was set up "in recognition of the nations need for elite human resources in science and technology" and it has stayed true to its founding philosophy.

It is possible that your smartphone, laptop or car was designed by a KAIST graduate and the excellent teaching and cutting-edge research carried out at the university is one of the reasons South Korea has gained its reputation for high-tech prowess.

The university has an innovative academic system and is allowed to operate autonomously, outside of the government curriculum and admissions rules which govern other universities. KAIST boasts South Korea’s first test-free admissions system (admissions instead being based on grades, letters of recommendation from teachers and personal statements), students are allowed to try courses before choosing their major and are allowed to switch their major at any time and over 80 per cent of courses at KAIST are taught in English. 

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4. Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH)

Founded in 1986 in the south-eastern port city of Pohang, this research-focused university is a powerhouse turning out excellent graduates, producing world-class research and fostering close ties with partners in industry and commerce.

A relatively new, privately run institution, POSTECH has risen up the rankings at an impressive rate, earning recognition from the academic community around the world. The university has taken an innovative, student-centred approach – admitting small numbers of the best and brightest and customising teaching to fit individuals in order to nurture the next generation of world-leading innovators.

Academic and research activities are focused around science and engineering with some of the best facilities and over 70 research institutes. POSTECH has its own bilingual campus and students and faculty hail from all over the world. POSTECH aims to continue breaking new ground both in terms of the research it does and in the way it teaches students.

5. Korea University

Korea University founded in 1905 is considered one of the country’s oldest, largest and top-ranked universities in Korea.

There are many clubs and associations for students including a ping-pong club, the acoustic guitar club, an environmental preservation club and a Korean checkers club. 

The university is well-known for developing international education programmes. There are global campuses located around the world and many partnerships to facilitate student exchanges. In addition to sending over 1,200 students abroad each year on student exchanges, KU welcomes 4,500 international students consisting of short-term visiting students as well as 2,000 degree-seeking students.

Top universities in South Korea 2018

Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2018 results

South Korea Rank 2018 World University Rank 2018 University City 
1 =74 Seoul National University Seoul
2 =95 Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) Daejeon
3 =111 Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) Seoul
4 =137 Pohang University of Science and Technology Pohang
=5 201–250 Korea University Seoul
=5 201–250 Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology Ulsan
=5 201–250 Yonsei University (Seoul campus) Seoul
=8 351–400 Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology Gwangju
=8 351–400 Hanyang University Seoul
=10 401–500 Chung-Ang University Seoul
=10 401–500 Kyung Hee University Seoul
=12 501–600 Ewha Womans University Seoul
=12 501–600 Konkuk University Seoul
=12 501–600 Sejong University Seoul
=12 501–600 University of Ulsan Ulsan
=16 601–800 Chonbuk National University Jeonju
=16 601–800 Chonnam National University Gwangju
=16 601–800 Inha University Incheon
=16 601–800 Kyungpook National University Daegu
=16 601–800 Pusan National University Busan
=16 601–800 University of Seoul Seoul
=16 601–800 Sogang University Seoul
=16 601–800 Yeungnam University Gyeongsan
=24 801–1000 Ajou University Suwon
=24 801–1000 Chungnam National University Daejeon
=24 801–1000 Hallym University Chuncheon
=24 801–1000 Seoul National University of Science and Technology (SeoulTech) Seoul

Read more: Best universities in Asia 

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