Universities Taking Initiatives to Lead the Future
It is time for the nation to compensate private universities for their efforts to revive the national education system.
The 2nd Future Universities Forum convenes with the presidents of ten universities.
The presidents of ten universities gathered to discuss the role and vision of universities in the future through innovative higher education.
The presidents of Kyung Hee University, Korea University, Sogang University, Sungkyunkwan University, Sookmyung Women’s University, Yonsei University, Ewha Womans University, Chung-Ang University, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and Hanyang University (listed in Korean alphabetical order) attended the 2nd Future Universities Forum. The forum seeks to promote the advancement of universities by meeting rapidly changing societal needs and strengthening international competitiveness required in the 21st century.
The Future Universities Forum was founded in June, 2016 based on the consensus among university presidents who believed that the role of university education for the future is to suggest the direction of society by making intellectual contributions and by leading innovative changes in collaboration with various educational and research institutes. At the 1st Future Universities Forum, the presidents had a chance to debate the future of university education and the role of universities in rapidly changing environments.
On Nov. 15, the 2nd Future Universities Forum took place in Centennial Memorial Samsung Hall, Korea University, where Inwon Choue (President of Kyung Hee University) delivered the keynote speech titled “The proper function of universities in a transition period – what are we doing now?”
Quoting a survey report on the awareness of 15,000 college students about universities in the future, Choue said, “When asked to describe the most admired professor at universities, the students did not pick those who helped them or who delivered knowledge through excellent lectures. Rather, they chose someone who helped them develop their personality as a mentor. In response to a question asking about the most promising occupation in next 50 years, the respondents gave us an unexpected answer, too. Surprisingly, the most promising occupations they chose were in the categories of religion, agriculture and forestry, and space science. These industries have not been in the spotlight for many years, so I believe the research result broke our social convention to some extent. Based on the research, we can come to the conclusion that we are all in need of someone’s help because our life is tough and gives us a hard time.”
Choue continued, “We have learned about the situation facing our students. Let’s turn to the reality that universities are facing now. It seems that universities do not often ask themselves about the reason for their existence. This is one fundamental question they should ask all the time because the essence of universities cannot be separated from learning, which exists for human beings. In addition, practical values that society seeks are taught in universities as the name of learning.” He anticipated that the future and essence of universities will be determined when the values of learning are in harmony.
KU President Jaeho Yeom took the podium to give his speech, “The future of universities and private education.” He said, “Korea University was founded under the spirit of ‘National Salvation Through Education’ in the latter era of the Joseon Dynasty. Due to the lack of state funding, the construction of university buildings was funded by people who voluntarily donated their gold cutlery or silver accessories. Other major private schools also went through similar hardships.” He emphasized that private educational institutions played a bigger role than the government in developing the nation, which has grown 400 times while the world economy has grown 6.6-fold on average. He pointed out that, “It is a shame that the government does not want to spend a penny for private universities except project funds or research funds. We have received no support for instructional equipment or basic experiment equipment that, in the past, was distributed to universities no matter whether they were private or public.” He continued, “Although students majoring in the natural sciences and engineering are assets to the nation, I often hear them complaining about the poor quality of the experiment equipment they use in universities. Some of the equipment are of lower quality compared to those used in science high schools. Given the circumstances where university tuition has been restricted from increasing for the last eight years, it is not easy for private universities to run natural sciences and engineering departments without any support from government.”
Yeom also cited state-funding cases of other countries. Nanyang Technological University, in which the Singaporean government invested 600 billion won, topped the list of Asian universities in only 20 years after its foundation. Students at Waseda University, one of the most prestigious private universities in Japan, receive 1.5-million-won worth of financial support from the government with no strings attached. Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, China, has tried to attract universities like Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Harbin University of Science and Technology for the development of the local economy by providing land and constructing buildings for free. Mentioning the state-funding cases in China, the KU president said, “Among approximately 120 buildings in Korea University, none of them are built from state subsidies.”
He continued, “The media says private universities in Korea receive more tuition than universities in other countries where private schools are also subject to government subsidies, which is quite misleading. According to data provided by Quacquarelli Symonds, an international university rating agency, private universities in the United States, whose rankings are similar to those of Korean universities, ask their students to pay tuition about seven times more than private schools in Korea.” He concluded his speech, saying, “It is time for us to seriously think about until when the government will stop disregarding private universities. If the government can’t, then it may be an opportunity for companies to invest in universities. We are ready to open up our doors to business owners who are willing to build research facilities on campus and create a better environment for our students.”
Yong-Hak Kim (President of Yonsei University) continued the discussion with two other speakers, Hei-sook Kim (President of Ewha Womans University) and Chang Soo Kim (President of Chung-Ang University).
Chung-Ang University President Kim argued that, “Most private universities in Korea were founded through a historical movement by people during the Japanese colonial era. Private educational institutions played a major role in achieving the independence of Korea and in the process of industrialization and democratization.” Kim continued, “Now is the time for the government to repay us for what we have done. The nation has grown so powerful that it can now take care of every part of society while private schools have been financially devastated. The current situation cannot be addressed only by the Ministry of Education. We want the entire administration including the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the National Assembly to actively participate in rewarding us for our effort.” He also made a suggestion, citing an example in Singapore, “In the city state of Singapore, six major universities set a common agenda ‘Imagine the Next 50 Years’ and choose six possible crises to arise in the future. The universities open classes and discussion sessions to address the topic and come up with solutions for the crises. This case may apply to us. The Future Universities Forum can think of ten possible crises in the Seoul metropolitan area and decide what kind of social responsibilities that universities should take in future.”
The KU president took the microphone again and said, “If you look at the financial status of our university, among the entire university income, 19% is earned from undergraduate tuition while state scholarships account for only 4%. We, private universities, should come up with solutions for education in the future including education through a ‘shared economy’ such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course).”
The president of Ewha Womans University added her opinion about education in the future. “Universities in the United States took a leading role in setting the academic system of modern times with practical majors at the center. When drawing a guideline for education and universities in the future, we should reassess whether the modern academic system is appropriate. For the sake of future generations, we need to be flexible, breaking the existing conditions and rules. Basically, we should continue to think what universities should do. We already have a variety of education systems in the academic world. Universities should reconsider their role as an exclusive, higher education system. Metaphorically, we need to redefine our focus and find a new target. Many educational institutions are already run independently by companies with cutting-edge management skills and technologies. Companies may financially support universities on their own, but if universities get used to it, they may be regarded as subcontractors of companies. We should look at ourselves first and think whether we are truly capable of helping students create new knowledge and conduct research in new areas.”
The president of Yonsei University said, “What surprised me most when I took office was that the level of distrust our society had toward universities was so high. We are often unfairly criticized for our saved money, but if you look closely, that saved money is comprised of scholarship funds and donations from alumni members. To me, those funds are not something to be criticized or condemned.”
The president of Kyung Hee University said, “There is a joke that goes, ‘Just like graduates from national and public universities do not work only for public values, those who graduate from private universities do not go for their own interest.’ Whether it is public or private, all higher educational institutions matter because they nurture intellectuals for society. The government needs to change its attitudes towards us.”
At the forum, the presidents revealed that the ten universities were collaborating with each other for the development of school systems and academic programs in order to seek positive changes and the advancement of private universities in Korea. The development plan included major projects such as (1) opening a joint campus; (2) opening of future-oriented subjects that break the borders between universities and majors; (3) preparing for a program to build the global capabilities of students in the ten universities based on HUFS’ strength in foreign language studies.
Starting from last year, the Future Universities Forum takes place quarterly to discuss various issues related to universities and propose policies accordingly. It also studies and analyzes common tasks that the participating universities have in terms of university management. The universities are active in sharing and distributing necessary information on responsibilities and tasks of universities in the future.
▲(From left) HUFS Vice President of External Affairs and Development Hyun-taek Kim, Hanyang University Vice President of Management Seung-cheol Lee, Kyung Hee University President Inwon Choue, Korea University President Jaeho Yeom, Ewha Womans University President Hei-sook Kim, Chung-Ang University President Chang Soo Kim, Yonsei University President Yong-Hak Kim, Sogang University President Jong Gou Park, and Sungkyunkwan University President Kyu Sang Chung.