The Republic of Korea's finest aims to foster the creativity needed to tackle global concerns, says Yeon-Cheon Oh
It is gratifying to see Seoul National University rising in Times Higher Education's World Reputation Rankings, a mark of greater international recognition of our efforts to strengthen our education and research.
The institution is the flagship of higher education in the Republic of Korea. Since its establishment in 1946 as the country's first national university, it has kept pace with (and indeed accelerated) the nation's progress as it has risen from the ruins of war to achieve astounding economic development and democratisation, becoming living proof that such dual achievement is possible for developing countries globally.
The driving force behind the Republic of Korea's achievements is its people, who have always put great emphasis and value on education, even in hard times. As the epitome of Koreans' passion for learning, Seoul National University has met its responsibilities to answer the need for higher education throughout the country's rapid transformation over the past 60 years.
Its reputation, unquestioned nationally and growing internationally, has been built on its willingness to take on this responsibility, continuously adapting according to the changing needs of the era.
For universities globally, the challenge to provide education that meets changing requirements while creating new standards and values is becoming more pressing every day, as the problems we face grow ever more complex and multilayered. To solve these problems we must become more creative, and universities hold the key by fostering creativity in the minds of future leaders.
Once again, Seoul National University is ready to take on the challenge. Recognising that global higher education is at a pivotal point, with a greater proportion of opportunities now opening up in Asia, the institution has been making significant changes to play its part in developing innovative models for research and education.
In 2011, Seoul National made the big step of changing its status from a government institution to an independent national university in order to facilitate management improvements and increase its global competitiveness by gaining more control over its education and research. This sea change has been accompanied by a new strategic vision, titled "The World's Leading Creative Knowledge Community", which will guide the institution's future direction.
True to its academic goal to cultivate enlightened citizens and its vision to build a creative knowledge community, the university has been strengthening and encouraging interdisciplinary education and research.
In terms of the former, Seoul National has continued to increase the attention paid to individual students by providing customised curricula incorporating diverse disciplines, thus expanding the boundaries for creative thinking and introducing a greater variety of perspectives that will encourage undergraduates to generate fresh ideas.
In terms of research, the university has been promoting greater cooperation, not only among its 73 institutes and 57 government-funded research centres, but also with external institutions nationally, regionally and globally.
In particular, Seoul National has welcomed and supported experimental research ideas through strengthened and customised funding for creative researchers, according to the belief that the results of such work will restructure the knowledge production system that forms the basis of current thinking.
The knowledge community that Seoul National envisions is not fenced within the boundaries of its campus: the creativity fostered in our universities is not a goal in itself but is rather a tool to build a better world.
Achievement based on competition is only a selfish pursuit of glory when not accompanied by consideration for (and with a dedication to serve) those in need. Seoul National recognises its responsibility to contribute to society and has recently fine-tuned the management of such efforts while deepening its involvement in social issues within the Republic of Korea as well as in developing countries globally.
Seoul National University will continue to focus its efforts on leading the way in forging new values for the future. It is our hope that the innovative and creative approaches we are taking to meet the challenges before us will inspire institutions around the world.
Yeon-Cheon Oh is president of Seoul National University