UNIVERSITIES IN SOUTH KOREA
South Korea had 203 universities and 136 community colleges in 2020. In most cases, a university has a four-year program and a community college has a two- or three-year one and specializes in technical training. Higher education institutions in South Korea are also divided into 1) public institutions, including national universities such as Seoul National University; and 2) private institutions, whose administration is more flexible and sometimes is operated with private companies. Sungkyunkwan University, for example, is part of the Samsung Group. [Source: Y.T. Yoon, Statista, June 16, 2021
The number of universities in South Korea increased dramatically until 2000 along with its population rate but has since gradually declined — again along with its population rate but also because of the government's university restructuring policy. With community colleges, the number has gradually decreased since 2005 as many have merged into universities run by the same corporation or reorganized into four-year universities. Many universities overexpanded and built up huge debts in the 1980s and 90s. After the economic crisis in 1997-98 universities were forced to make big cuts. A couple of universities went bankrupt.
In the 1990s there were 157 four-year universities and a large number of two-year junior colleges in South Korea. At that time 47 percent of all high school graduates attended a four-year university (compared to 58 percent in the United States). Today 70 percent do. Seoul National University is South Korea's most prestigious university. Other highly-regarded universities include Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Korea University, Yonsei University and Ewha Women's University.
Korean universities used to be dismissed as pretty low in quality especially considering the effort it took to get into them. None were ever mentioned in lists of the world's top 200 universities, and many had crowded labs, out-of-date facilities and a lack of funding. But that is no longer the case. Today Seoul National University and KAIST are ranked in the top 200 globally. In an Asiaweek survey in the late 1990s, South Korea had nine universities in the top 40, compared to just five in Japan, which has almost three times the population.
In recent years the job market for university degrees has become glutted and some students have opted to enroll in two-year technical schools to learn skills like computer programming rather attending four year colleges. In the early 2000s, four years of university cost about US$15,000, compared to US$850 for a two year college.
Ranking of university education in 60 nations: the lowest in 2004: 1) Indonesia; 2) South Korea; 3) Japan; 4) Slovenia; 5) Luxembourg; 6) Argentina; 7) Italy; 8) Romania; 9) Greece; 10) Brazil. [Source: International Institute for Management Development (IMD)]
Universities and Colleges in South Korea
According to the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “In 1994 universities were allowed to decide their own school affairs, including the calendar and graduation requirements, and incrementally were given more control over student quotas. In 1996, the government granted autonomy to seven provincial universities with the most superior educational conditions. The objectives of the new education system, as laid out by PCER, include full autonomy by higher educational institutions, while the necessary support for high quality research is provided by the government. [Source: Young-Key Kim-Renaud, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]
“Each university sets the requirements for each credit (usually one semester hour), the minimum credits necessary for graduation, and the number of credits students may carry per semester. The curriculum consists of general and professional courses and includes required and elective courses.
“To help universities diversify, as each carry different strengths, government grants have been increased. Furthermore, the government has made it possible for private foundations to establish small, specialized colleges, graduate schools, and universities. Seventeen such colleges were approved in 1996.
“Government financial support for universities has increased to 1,013.6 billion won in 1996 from 329.7 billion won in 1993. With the introduction of post-doctoral training, government research grants also increased to 90 billion won in 1996 from 27.2 billion won in 1993. The support has been unevenly distributed, depending on in stitutions' and individuals' performance.
Most Prestigious Universities in South Korea
Prestigious higher education institutions in South Korea include the state-run Seoul National University,originally established by the Japanese as Seoul Imperial University in 1923, and a handful of private institutions such as Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Korea University, Yonsei University, and Ehwa Woman's University. The leading government university is Seoul National University. These days South Korea’s technological university are highly rated. The principal private institutions — Korea, Sung Kyun Kwan, Yonsei, Hanyang, Chungang, and Ewha universities — are all in Seoul. Ewha is largest women's universities in the world. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007; Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]
The most prestigious universities in South Korea have traditionally been the elite SKY schools: Seoul National, Korea, and Yonsei universities. Going to one of these schools confers large advantages to their graduates when they seek jobs and helps them enter the South Korean old boys network. Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “About 600,000 Korean students enter colleges each year — 10,000 of them at the SKY schools — and more than one in five are jaesoo saeng” — high school students who retook the university entrance exam a year after having a disappointing the first go around — and “redeemed themselves through cramming. Among the criticisms of” Lee Myung-bak, President of South Korea from 2008 to 2013, “were accusations that he filled too many top government posts with people tied to Korea University, his alma mater. Yet when the president replaced his entire staff in June, all but one of 10 new senior secretaries had graduated from the nation’s three best-known universities.” [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, August 16, 2008]
Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “ Seoul National University (SNU), is South Korea's most prestigious institution of higher learning and is seen as being in a class by itself. The second tier of prestige schools includes the most important private universities: Yonsei, Koryo, and Ewha Universities.While these schools are the ones most hotly sought by college-bound high school students, the country has many colleges and universities that are smaller and somewhat more specialized but nonetheless excellent. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, London, 2000]
Ranking of the 30 Best Universities in South Korea
The best universities in South Korea according to U.S. News and World Report (USNWR) are: 1) Seoul National University in Seoul, ranked No. 119 in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 63.4
2) Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon, ranked No. 187 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 61
3) Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, ranked No. 236 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 59.8
4) Pohang University of Science and Technology in Pohang, Gyeongbuk, ranked No. 261 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 58.9
5) Korea University in Seoul, ranked No. 278 in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 58.3
6) Yonsei University in Seoul, ranked No. 289 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 54.2
7) Ulsan National Institute of Science & Technology in Ulsan, ranked No. 387 in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 51.3
8) Hanyang University in Seoul, ranked No. 467 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 50.5
9) University of Seoul in Seoul, ranked No. 494 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 50.1
10) Kyungpook National University in Daegu, ranked No. 511 (tied) in the USNWR Best Global ReportUniversitie
11) Ewha Womans University in Seoul, ranked No. 522 in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 49.4
12) Kyung Hee University in Seoul, ranked No. 530 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 48
13) Chonnam National University in Gwangju, Gyeonggi, ranked No. 569 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 47
14) Pusan National University in Busan, ranked No. 604 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 46.9
15) University of Ulsan in Ulsan, ranked No. 606 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 46.8
16) Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in Gwangju, Gyeonggi, ranked No. 613 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 45.4
17) Chonbuk National University in Jeonju, Jeollabuk, ranked No. 659 in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 44
18) Gyeongsang National University in Jinju City, South Gyeongsang , ranked No. 691 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 40.7
19) Inha University in Incheon, ranked No. 797 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 40.1
20) Tie: Konkuk University in Seoul, ranked No. 813 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of
Sejong University in Seoul, ranked No. 813 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 39.4
22) Yeungnam University in Gyeongsan, Gyeongbuk, ranked No. 831 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 39.2
23) Tie: Ajou University in Suwon, Gyeonggi, ranked No. 841 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 39.2
Chungnam National University in Daejeon, ranked No. 841 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 38
25) Chung Ang University in Seoul, ranked No. 871 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 37.7
26) Catholic University of Korea in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, ranked No. 880 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 36.8
27) Chungbuk National University in Cheongju, Chungbuk, ranked No. 904 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 36.6
28) Pukyong National University in Busan, ranked No. 909 (tied) in the USNWR List of Best Global Universities with a score of 35.8
29) Sogang University in Seoul, ranked No. 930 (tied) in the USNWR Best Global Universities Report.
Dankook University in Yongin, Gyeonggi
Seoul National University
Seoul National University is a national university officially established in 1946 but originally established by the Japanese as Keijo (Seoul) Imperial University in 1923. Located in the Gwanak-gu district of Seoul and known colloquially as Seouldae, it had 27,784 students (16,556 undergraduates, 11,228 postgraduates and 3,663 doctoral students) and an academic staff of 2,130 in 2019. The main campus covers 4.2 square kilometers (1037 acres). The main Gwanak-gu campus and two additional campuses in Daehangno and Pyeongchang together cover 7.2 square kilometers.
Seoul National University is considered to be the most prestigious university in South Korea. It is comprised of sixteen colleges, one graduate school and nine professional schools. According to data compiled by KEDI, the university spends more on its students per capita than any other universities in the country that enroll at least 10,000 students.
Admissions to Seoul National University is extremely competitive. From 1981 to 1987, when an applicant could apply only to one university at a time, more than 80 percent of the top 0.5 percent scorers in the annual university entrance exam applied to SNU and many of them failed to get in. Famous alumni include Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations; Hoesung Lee, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Song Sang-hyun, former President of the International Criminal Court (ICC); and Lee Jong-wook, former Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO); and Kwon Oh-hyun, CEO and chairman of Samsung Electronics.
The 16 colleges of the university offer 83 undergraduate degree programs. For master and doctoral programs there is one graduate school with 99 programs from five fields of studies. A) Colleges: College of Humanities, College of Social Sciences, College of Business Administration, College of Education, College of Fine Arts, College of Liberal Studies, College of Human Ecology, College of Music, College of Engineering, College of Natural Sciences, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, College of Medicine, College of Nursing, College of Pharmacy, College of Veterinary Medicine; B) Professional Graduate Schools: Graduate School of Data Science, Graduate School of Public Health, Graduate School of Public Administration, Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Graduate School of International Studies, Graduate School of Business, Graduate School of Convergence Science Technology, Graduate School of International Agriculture Technology, Graduate School of Engineering Practice, School of Law, School of Dentistry, School of Medicine.
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) is South Korea’s top technological university and No. 2 university overall. Fewer than 1 per cent of high school graduates have test scores good enough to get in. Michael Alison Chandler wrote in the Washington Post: To entice the best students into science and tech fields, the South Korean government also created a flagship university — KAIST. The nationally sponsored school — similar to military academies in the United States, but dedicated to furthering South Korea’s economy — showcased engineering as a prestigious profession fundamental to the nation’s success starting in 1971. [Source: Michael Alison Chandler, Washington Post, July 17, 2012]
“On a warm spring afternoon, the grassy fields at the 300-acre campus south of Seoul were deserted but the labs were full. Students were designing exercise equipment for people with Alzheimer’s disease, studying the olfactory systems of fruit flies, and fine-tuning an electric bus that recharges wirelessly as it drives over electric strips embedded in the road. KAIST president Suh Nampyo, a former mechanical engineering professor and department head at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he wants to make the school not just the best in South Korea, but one of the top 10 science universities in the world. (KAIST was 94th on the 2011-12 Times Higher Education world ranking, up from 132 in 2007).
“He has launched a series of reforms to stir competitiveness, offering all-English instruction and overhauling the admissions system. International applications are up, particularly from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. Over the years, KAIST graduates have filled government research institutes and top jobs at companies like Samsung and Hyundai. Admission became so prized that parents in the countryside would wave banners and host a banquet for the village if their son or daughter was accepted.
Suh Nam-Pyo wrote in The National: KAIST represents an interesting case study of how to develop a research university. It was founded in 1971 to generate engineers and scientists with master's degrees and doctorates. Its creation coincided with the decision of the government under the then president Park Chung-hee to invest in heavy industries such as steel-making, shipbuilding, machine tools, and automobiles. Until then, the economy had depended heavily on labour-intensive businesses. Since its establishment, KAIST has produced about 46,000 graduates including about 9,000 Phd graduates. It has about 620 tenure-track professors and a further 400 or so adjunct or visiting professors. Today KAIST's overall ranking in the world is around 63rd; in engineering and information technology, it ranks 24th. Of course, KAIST is rated as the best university in South Korea. [Source: Suh Nam-Pyo, The National, March 21, 2013]
KAIST has initiated an educational programme, Education 3.0 (also known as the I-4 programme). Under this format, no lectures are given in the classroom. Students listen on their own to lectures stored on the internet and go to class to solve problems with other students in a pre-assigned group. Student response to Education 3.0 has been overwhelmingly positive, and KAIST is expanding this programme. KAIST is also broadening this way of learning by collaborating with universities in other countries. We initiated the KAIST International Education Initiative in which its students learn with their counterparts at the Technical University of Denmark through cyber space, using the internet and other tools.
Ehwa Women’s University
Ehwa University is South Korea’s most prestigious women’s university and the largest all-women university n the world. It was founded initially as a primary school under the name of Ewha Haktang in 1886 by Mary Scranton, a Methodist missionary, with the purpose of providing girls with the same educational opportunities as boys. In 1910, it was expanded into a college and achieved full university accreditation in 1946.. Now it’s a university with 15 colleges, 37 institutes and 21,000 students. Ehwa means “pear blossom.” The first female prime minister of South Korea was an Ehwa graduate as were the wives of Presidents Kim Dae Jung and Chun Doo Hwon. In the early 2000s, Ehwa began admitting married women for the first time after it was forced to in discrimination suit brought by a human rights group.
As of 2001, Ewha Women's University had an enrollment of 17,000 and had 14 colleges, 13 graduate schools, and special graduate courses. At that time it offered 56 majors. The graduate school offered master's degree courses in 55 areas and doctoral degree courses in 42. In the early 2000s, more than 900 candidates graduate with master's degrees and 80 with doctorates. [Source: Young-Key Kim-Renaud, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]
“Beginning September 2001, Ewha Women's University's Multimedia Education Institute is to administer Korea's first ever "international cyber university," with online courses to 30 institutions around the world. The international Cyber University, in collaboration with eight other local colleges, is to provide five courses, mainly in women's and Korean studies. These will initially be taught via the Internet and later complemented with videoconferencing and field trips to East Asia (Cohen). Information technology has also been an excellent solution for lifelong education and those who cannot attend school for various reasons.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.
Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2021