[THE KOREA TIMES] Study abroad for global competitiveness
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Study abroad for global competitiveness

Lee Jong-yul, second from left, CEO and president of the Korus Education Institute, poses with Carol Mandzik, third from left, director of international education at the State University of New York at Oneonta, during their meeting at the Korus headquarters in southern Seoul in April 2013. Korus has signed memorandums of understanding with some 20 community and state colleges in the U.S, through which full-time students are able to prepare in Korea before joining programs at those institutions.
/ Courtesy of Korus Education Institute


by Kwon Ji-youn

Lee Jong-yul, CEO and president of the Korus Education Institute, stressed the need for alternative ways through which Korean students can become global talent, if they cannot do so locally.

“The current Korean higher education system is strictly about rankings,” Lee said in a recent interview with The Korea Times at the institute’s headquarters in Gangnam, southern Seoul. “Only some five percent of high school seniors are accepted into the top 10 universities.”

Lee called into question what usually happens to the remaining 95 percent of students.

“The current system is based on a relative evaluation scale,” he said. “That means that the remaining 95 percent each year are stripped of any chances to turn the tables when they graduate college because they will be branded as students who were not accepted to top-tier schools in Seoul.”

Lee described the remaining 95 percent of students as a population that has been disregarded.

“Our society looks heavily at the academic background of any candidate,” Lee continued. “It’s like a traffic jam. If the elite students at the front don’t move forward, those behind them are rendered immobile.”

Furthermore, Lee stressed that the Korean education system is one of “mass systemization” in which students are churned out of standardized education machines.

“To meet the needs of a further globalized 21st century, education needs to be segmented and specialized,” he said. “Students need to be fluent in English, possess expertise in a field of choice and acquire a global network.”

Lee Jong-yul, left, CEO and president of the Korus Education Institute, presents students participating in the Education Abroad Program with scholarships at Chungang University in Seoul in December 2011.
/ Courtesy of Korus Education Institute

Related parties have over the years put forth suggestions to solve this seemingly inextricable problem. Strengthening programs at regional colleges and drawing attention away from Seoul-based colleges is deemed an important part of the solution.

“But even so, studying abroad is, as of now, not about taking a detour or avoiding the problem because the Korean education system clearly has issues that need to be dealt with,” Lee said. “It’s supply-based, as opposed to demand-based. Students become homogenized and it fails to meet society’s needs of a varied spectrum of talent.”

Lee stressed that if there were, in fact, schools in Seoul, or throughout Korea, that brought out global competitiveness in its students, there would be no students stuck in such a rut.

According to a report by the Ministry of Education in 2012, some 25 percent of full-time students drop out of college, costing some three trillion won a year. Lee attributed such statistics to the fact that students become painfully aware of how education-centered society is and are disheartened by reality. He also pointed out that schools do not provide students with the education needed to strengthen competitiveness whether or not they have graduated from top-notch centers of learning.

“And the education ministry is stuck in the mindset of the 1970s and 80s, and is unable to come up with education policies more suitable to the 21st century,” he said.

So, in the meantime, Lee suggests high school seniors look at opportunities to study abroad to boost their global competitiveness. By global competitiveness, Lee refers to English proficiency at the native speakers’ level, professional knowledge at the global level and global experiences and networking capabilities.

“Of course, if Korean universities were capable of increasing students’ global competitiveness, there would be no reason to study overseas,” he said. “But this is not the case.”

As an alternative, Korus provides programs that help Korean high school seniors prepare for, and embark on, study abroad opportunities in the U.S. As part of its Education Abroad Program, Korus has signed memorandums of understanding with some 20 community and state colleges in the U.S.

Through the program, Korean students who are accepted to these universities are able to study at Korean universities for a year before joining the program on campus. During that year, students will be able to learn practical skills needed to adapt to college life, including essay writing and presentation skills, as a full-time exchange student.

These colleges evaluate the students based on their applications and interviews, and if accepted, they take on a full-time student status at the school. These students are not required to take standardized examinations, which often require months, even years, of preparation.

“While preparing for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) does help one’s English abilities, it does not necessarily equip an individual with the capabilities he or she needs to excel in classes at U.S. schools,” Lee said.

These students also benefit in that they are able to ease the transition from Korea to the U.S., so as to minimize cultural shock and distress.

The program was established in 2006 and has since sent 1,871 students to state universities in New York and California. These schools, while they aren’t private, are highly ranked and have plenty of name recognition. Moreover, Some 85 percent of these students maintain a grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.

Through Korus’s Global Transfer Program, students looking to transfer to U.S. community or state colleges are also able to apply without taking standardized examinations. These students complete a six-month English course in Korea before leaving.

“That way, they will truly be prepared to adapt to the U.S. curriculum,” he continued. “And in the long run, this will help enhance Korea’s prestige by ensuring that our nation’s talent is equipped with a global competitiveness to match that of other developed countries.” 
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