More Foreign Professors Coming to Korea?
David McNeill, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education (February 27, 2011), offers a pertinent title for an interesting article: "South Korea Brings in Foreign Professors by the Thousands, but Is It Ready for Them?"
And are they ready for it?
For those of us already teaching in Korea, this is not exactly new news, but here goes:
Most observers expect the South Korean figure [for the percentage of foreign faculty] to grow sharply in the coming decade as the country's universities climb out of an academic ghetto that has kept them largely isolated from the global job market.Probably true that the percent will rise . . . but sharply? I wonder. But there is the promise. For example:
Sogang, a private liberal-arts college set up by Jesuits from Wisconsin, is at the vanguard of this burgeoning internationalization. It plans to recruit 60 new foreign professors over the next four years, as it strives to push English-language teaching from 20 percent of its classes to 50 percent.I keep hearing that Korean universities intend to do these things, and Sogang University can probably be taken seriously (based on my experience of the place), but the announced goal at Korean universities often exceeds the reality attained. I acknowledge the real changes, however, from the 'old days' in Korea:
Foreign professors in South Korea were once little more than exotic symbols of an aspiring globalization. Most were contract teachers who returned home after a few years, leaving little lasting mark on the higher-education system.I reckon that's what I've often been. I even left once -- after a 1995/96 academic year at Daegu's Kyungbook National University -- for a postdoc in Australia and another in Israel, only to return in late 1999 to pursue my 'career' here in Korea . . . but leaving little lasting mark, I suppose. Might my fortunes change? Somebody's will:
But as the [South Korean] economy matures, colleges increasingly see foreign faculty and language programs as shortcuts to modernization, and the government is supporting them with millions of dollars in financing. The changes come as economists and other experts warn that South Korea risks falling behind its competitors unless it joins the world and overcomes a deficit in creative thinking and innovation.That's quite a burden to put on newly-arrived foreign professors -- expecting them to teach creative thinking to Korean university students who are generally very passive in class after years of rote learning and in-the-box problem solving. And let's not forget the need for inculcating critical thinking among students, never an easy thing to do, and harder in a hierarchical social system like Korea's. I would hope that these professors receive an orientation from foreign faculty who've already taught in Korea for several years. New foreign faculty also need to know that if they are too rigorous in their grading and too intent on weeding out plagiarism, they'll receive low evaluations from students, which will be interpreted as evidence of poor teaching. I recall a student once complaining in an evaluation comment that I had been "too concerned about catching plagiarism," for instance. I had to chuckle, but some administrators might side with that student. Administrations do want to make sure that they're getting their money's worth, however, and there's a lot of money being invested in this proposed upgrade of Korea's university system:
The government's World Class University Project, which received 825 billion won ($752-million) last year, has fueled the process, pushing colleges to hire "outstanding foreign scholars." Seoul National University alone invited 59 foreign professors last year. Foreign hires are now a key criterion for government financial support, say experts.Hey! I'm an "outstanding foreign scholar" -- just check out my blog! But maybe I don't really want one of those high-level posts:
The cost of recruiting from abroad has also come under fire in the South Korean news media. With salaries often pegged to the dollar, universities must find 80 million won (about $71,000) a year for a foreign hire, nearly twice the annual salary for a Korean professor at a public university.That shock can even be 'electrocuting':
European and American transplants often deal, however, with more profound problems than resentful Korean colleagues and uncomprehending parents. Some experience deep culture shock as they try to acclimatize to life in a still overwhelmingly homogenous and hierarchical academic culture.
Many universities are coy about revealing how long foreign professors stay, but an Education Ministry survey of 288 foreign academics last year found it averaged just four months. Last fall a foreigner hired as a full professor at Seoul National packed his bags after just a month, "citing difficulties adapting," according to the university.An average of merely four months! I'd never have guessed that. I wonder why they didn't feel at home. Perhaps they found that some promises that had been made were not being kept? Foreign faculty often complain of this. Or they find out that 'tenure' might not mean the same thing in Korea for foreigners as for Koreans. A Korean university where I once taught reinterpreted its rules to exclude tenure for foreign faculty, so those of us with what we'd been told was tenure discovered that we no longer had tenure. But four months is way too short for that sort of problem to arise, so other reasons must account for this very brief average stay. Perhaps a lot of foreign faculty were 'run out of town' for the moral hazard that they posed? There's a degree of distrust, and even fearfulness, among Koreans about the motives of some foreign faculty coming to Korea:
One indication of South Korea's lingering fears about an influx of foreigners can be found at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, where $100-million in government money has been spent developing robot English teachers. Prototypes of the robot are operated remotely from the Philippines, keeping the "moral problems" associated with non-Koreans at arm's length, says Mun Sang Kim, director of the institute's Advanced Robotics Research Center.Yes, one doesn't want any immoral "accidents" among the foreign faculty. Mr. Mun Sang Kim means "incidents," of course. To be serious for a moment, I don't think that one can lump the various 'teachers' into one group. There are the teachers at small-scale academies who need only a four-year university degree, teachers at schools who likely need a master's degree, instructors at universities who also need a master's, and professors at universities who need a doctorate. Academies would have the highest percentage of teachers prone to the aforementioned 'accidents' since too many of these academies will hire any featherless biped claiming to have a college degree. But schools and universities are more discriminating about whom they accept and will therefore be likely to hire fewer moral reprobates.
"There are some problems and some accidents in hiring native speakers at the schools right now," he says. "For example, the immigration system in Korea is not good enough to examine whether the foreign visitors are clean or not, or they did some crime," he adds. "That's the reason why the government thinks about such robot systems. They don't have any such social problems, they don't do the drugs."
The article thus mixes some apples and oranges in its report by not distinguishing clearly enough among types of educational institutions and kinds of faculty, but the report will surely draw more foreign scholars' attention toward Korea and likely result in a greater number of applicants to these World Class University posts.
More competition . . .