Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Korea Has Fewest Foreign Students in OECD

This is an interesting news snippet. Basically, it says that Korea has the fewest foreign students in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

This was interesting to me because I've just made it through a master's program here. For me, it was an easy decision and I felt comfortable doing it because I already had a graduate degree from the States. Thus, I felt insulated from any criticism of Korean universities being sub par in terms of the quality of instruction because I'd already earned my stripes so to speak. Also, for me, it was a way to create a niche. Now when I go to apply for PhD programs, I have specialized knowledge in a specific area. That knowledge is complemented by having lived in the country for awhile.

I've had a few people ask me if I planned to get my PhD here. I point out that if Koreans have trouble getting jobs with a PhD from a Korean university and that most go through hell and high water to get admission to foreign universities then it's not really worth my time either. Plus, honestly, I want maximum leverage and a Korean PhD would leave me with very few options.

What's even more interesting is that Korea is trying to become an international hub. Honestly, I'm still not quite sure what they mean by that. (I don't think they really know either.) Well, in order to attract foreigners you've got to have a society where not only is it easy to conduct business but it's fairly easy to live. That means accomidation, medical care, education, labor and management practices and many other things are on a par to other major foreign hubs.

Korea Has Fewest Foreign Students in OECD

The percentage of foreign students studying in Korean universities is the lowest among member states of the OECD. According to the “OECD Education at a Glance 2007” survey, Korea ranked bottom with Poland at 0.5 poercent in 2005, or 15,497 foreign students out of a total 3.2 million of the country's undergraduates and graduates. New Zealand had the highest percentage with 28.9 percent, followed by Australia with 20.6 percent, Switzerland with 18.4 percent and the UK with 17.3 percent. The OECD average was 7.6 percent.

Meanwhile, the most Koreans went abroad to study in the U.S. (57.8 percent), followed by Japan (23.4 percent), Germany (5.5 percent), Australia (4.4 percent), the U.K. (4 percent) and France (2.2 percent). Tuition was higher than the OECD average. Annual average tuition for four-year national or public universities was US$3,883, the third highest after the U.S. ($5,027) and Japan ($3,920). Korea rose from fourth place last year. The high ranking is because tuition in public universities in Europe is very low or free.

The Education Ministry in Seoul says state support has not risen in line with the growing number of universities, which explains the increasing tuition burden on students. As to private university tuition, the U.S.’ was the highest at $18,604, and Korea ranked fifth at $7,408. The number of students per teacher was 16 in high schools, 20 in middle schools and 28 in elementary schools, higher than the OECD average of 13, 13 and 16 respectively, the highest excluding Mexico. The number of students per class was 32 in elementary schools and 35 in middle schools (OECD average 21, 24), and classified as overcrowded. The annual report surveys the 36 member states comparing statistics on factors like high school graduation rate, per-capita public education cost, teacher wages and others.

I had to put together a report this summer comparing the international schools in Seoul to places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and other cities. There are very few options here and it's common knowledge that within the foreign community a lot of people say that when their kids reach school age they'll have to move. Now there are a few international schools, but they really just don't compare to the range of international schools in other countries in Asia trying to attract foreign investment.

Layer on top of that the difficulty Koreans seem to have in anticipating problems, making decisions on their own and empathazing with the adjustments a foreigner has to deal with living here and you've got a problem. There are some professionals that work with helping foreigners settle here, but there are some changes that Korea itself will have to undergo to make this a place where not only single English teachers can live but where families can settle. Granted, yes, the companies and governments sponsoring these people bear responsibility too, but the infrastructure has to be there or else they'll choose a place that has the infrastructure in place. Considering the difficulties you face when living here as a foreigner and, as I said in this post, I don't see how Korea is going to achieve this goal without some significant changes.

Here is an interesting discussion on the Marmot's Hole about how foreign professors aren't even treated like equals to their Korean peers: Just Treat Us Like Equals: Foreign Professors. I know that as an English instructor on the college/university level my current job is the first job where they try to involve us.

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