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[Editorial] Attraction and carelessness

Policies on foreign students should be revamped

March 28, 2016 - 17:47 By 백희연
Many Korean universities claim to be going global. However, it seems that most of them are still far from globalized in the way they treat foreign students, whose collective numbers have rapidly risen over the past several years.

Given continuous side effects involving disharmony between Korean and inbound students, there is an urgent need for the nation to overhaul its policies on studying in Seoul and major cities nationwide with the goal of the students’ smooth acclimation and attracting more excellent foreign students on a long-term basis.

Recent statistics showed that many universities saw a large portion of foreign students discontinue their studies and return home. Factors behind the students quitting their studies were family problems, followed by health problems, language barriers, failure to adapt to studying in Korea and poor academic performance.

The basic problem arises from schools’ reckless focus on quantitative attraction of foreign students without taking care of qualitative aspects of their campus life. The Ministry of Education tends to assess schools by their number of foreign students for a globalized index.

Initially, the ministry and universities should seriously review the situation of growing campus disharmony. Earlier reports showed that some Korean students shared a list of courses crowded with foreign students so that other Korean students could avoid signing up for those classes.

A student from Africa had told The Korea Herald that he “saw some friends rejected from attending certain classes just because they were expats.”

Many of them also drop their study due to language barriers. According to surveys, some foreign students, who were not good at Korean language, even failed to exactly grasp what the assignments, suggested by professors in Korean, were.

Amid the situation, 21 universities reported in 2014 that more than 10 percent of foreign students discontinued their study. Further, some of the dropouts have remained in the country without legal permission, as they chose to be employed here instead of returning home.

The number of foreign students at local universities and colleges came to an all-time high of about 91,000 last year, and the Education Ministry has unveiled a plan to pull up that number to 200,000 by 2020.

But the quantitative approach may trigger further side effects as long as the ministry fails to adjust its assessment standards on the inbound students segment.

The proportion of student nationalities is also far from diverse, given that about 70 percent of foreign students come from neighboring countries in China, Japan and Mongolia. South Korea has enacted policies for foreign students over a shorter period of time, while some Asia-Pacific countries like Japan and Australia have gone through long periods of trial and error in their investment in programs for foreign students over the past few decades.