Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fulbrighter Stephanie Kim: Internationalization of Korean Universities

Stephanie Kim

Because I was once a Fulbright Scholar (1989/90), I receive invitations to Fulbrighter presentations here in Seoul, but I'd never attended one until this past Friday, when I went to hear UCLA doctoral candidate Stephanie Kim speak about Korean attempts to raise university rankings on the global scale, a topic promised in the description sent to me a couple of weeks ago:
In the wake of the Asian financial crisis and of a continuing neoliberal [i.e., classical liberal economics] trend in higher education reform that emphasizes deregulation, competition, and marketization, the Korean government has attempted to minimize the country's educational trade deficit by pursuing measures that discourage students from studying abroad while encouraging foreign students to come study in South Korea. In effect, this policy shift underscores the need to raise educational and research standards at Korean universities and to create campuses with more international settings so as to better accommodate foreign students. One consequence is the emergence of international colleges housed within Korean universities that adopt a Western liberal arts model and are conducted entirely in English.

Stephanie's Fulbright research provides an anthropological analysis of an international college that examines how various university stakeholders navigate their professional activities in the context of the university. It takes the integration of liberal arts education in South Korea as a point of entry to discuss the social, economic, and political debates surrounding university internationalization. Her presentation ultimately argues that the emergence of international colleges reflects a unique model of university internationalization that embodies the Korean attitude towards globalization.
There wasn't much anthropological analysis in the presentation -- not what I think of as anthropology, anyway -- so I'm assuming Ms. Kim saves that for the thesis itself, but the data and her argument were interesting to reflect upon, especially for a man such as myself who has taught so long in Korea, first in 1995/6 and then from 1999 through 2012, and who has ever attempted to "navigate . . . professional activities in the context of the university" systems where I've taught, with varying success among seven universities (portmanteau for "unique adversities") as I've trod the faultline between academic cultures East and West. Ms. Kim's succinct summary of "the Korean attitude towards globalization" in "university internationalization" clearly articulated the point that each international program set up in Korean universities to train students in critical thinking (often taught by foreign professors) has mostly been sealed off in a 'bubble' from the rest of the university, the intention being to prevent critical thinking from being turned upon the larger university system or the even larger Korean society, where hierarchy and Confucian ethics hold sway.

As example, Ms. Kim related an anecdote about one of the first graduates of Yonsei's Underwood International College (UIC), a woman who was interviewed by a national newspaper here in Korea and was asked about the UIC program. She answered the various questions honestly, using the critical skills in which she had been trained at the UIC, so she had both positive and negative things to say. Later, the dean of UIC called her personally and told her that before she gave any further interviews, she should first check with the UIC administration about what to say.

That kind of demand would almost certainly not happen in a Western university, else the administrative official would be laughed out of office! But it's the sort of reaction still to be expected here in Korea . . .

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home