CGHE Webinar 346

Understanding higher education policies in South Korea: guiding perspectives, historical contexts and policy problems of new government

Date: Thursday, 30 March 2023 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Location: Zoom webinar, registration required
Speaker(s):
  • Hoonhui Cho, University of Oxford

Event Materials

This event is now archived and we are pleased to provide the following event media and assets, along with the original event overview.

The presentation gives a brief account of higher education policies in South Korea with particular focus on understanding contemporary changes in policy making and governing work. It starts with overviewing theoretical resources which are helpful in formulating the frame of reference. Theories on the state and governance are reviewed, and a cultural approach is suggested as the methodology for interpreting policies and institutional changes in higher education. Then it evaluates whether ideas on globalisation and neo-liberalism can contribute to understanding policy contexts in East Asian countries. The second part explains historical and political contexts of South Korean state in which higher education has been formulated and developed in particular ways. This part specifically discusses state-academy relations in South Korea under the backdrop of the historical influence of Confucian tradition, the process of modernisation after the Korean War, and subsequent state-driven economic development. In this context, globalisation or neo-liberal strategy is considered as an effective policy discourse of state-managerialism which was actively employed by the South Korean government in 1990s.

Informed by these contextual elements, this presentation tries to understand recent changes in higher education policies in South Korea. It asks how higher education policies define problems and legitimate their solutions, under what circumstances. Accomplishing economic development in the 4th industrial revolution has always been at the top of the national agenda in South Korea. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has unveiled new conditions for the workings of higher education. The new government emphasises nurturing ‘digital talent’ as a primary goal of higher education. A series of higher education policies has been proposed in the government in order to reach the goal. One of key ideas is ‘support without control’. The Ministry of Education tries to reduce government regulations and support the self-governing powers of universities. Renewing the research assessment system and introducing block-grant in higher education are also emerging agendas. The importance of industry-academy cooperation is increasing as a useful developmental strategy. Universities are being re-conceptualised as innovative sites that can enable the rehabilitation of regional communities across the country.

In the historical development of higher education in South Korea, strong connections between the state and universities are visible. Contemporary higher education policy agendas can be understood in this ongoing context. Nonetheless, this presentation is not inclusive at all and the conception of ‘the public good of higher education in South Korea’ needs to be elaborated. It is expected that scholarly works and academic discussions will follow.

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