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‘Bio is the future,’ says new INU president Cho

Aug 10,2016
Cho Dong-sung, the new president of Incheon National University, emphasizes the importance of bio studies. [CHOI JEONG-DONG]
Cho Dong-sung, who was inaugurated as the president of Incheon National University (INU) on July 29, carries the documents of 28 action plans with him these days. The action plans are projects he proposed as campaign pledges during the election for presidency. Project managers have been selected for each project, as well. For example, the project manager for the construction of a bio-cluster in Songdo, Incheon, was assigned to Ahn Soon-kil, a biotechnology professor at the university.

In such a way, 28 project managers will map out detailed action plans for their respective categories by the end of October to set projects in motion in the next four years. This is unusual, as most presidents of other universities make such plans in the beginning of the first semester after they are inaugurated. Last Friday, the JoongAng Ilbo met with Cho and listened to his ideas.

Q. Even before you took office, you have mapped out a budget proposal and its expected effect, and you had a plan to secure the budget you need.

A. I had an opportunity to work on long-term strategic plans in companies like Gulf Oil and Boston Consulting Group after I earned my doctoral degree from Harvard Business School in 1976.

Thereafter, in 1978, I organized a five-year strategic plan for Samsung Group while I worked as a business professor at Seoul National University (SNU). Although I have had many experiences coming up with long-term plans, what we have for this university does not all come from my own thoughts.

It is a combination of many different ideas that were proposed by the members of this university. My role was basically providing a foundation for members to build ideas upon. A floor, if you will.

What do you want this university to become?

Currently, SNU and INU are the only incorporated national universities in Korea. INU should pick up what SNU does not do.

The direction that this university is taking is distinct.

Six years ago, I ran for president of SNU. At that time, I thought SNU seemed to be a colossal planet covered with thin curtains. What I mean by this is, whenever SNU needed to hire a new professor, SNU would search for a scholar whose field of study did not overlap the fields which already-hired professors studied.

After recruiting professors in this manner for many years, every professor has his or her own exclusive field. Even though SNU had professors covering many areas of academic studies, there was neither cooperation nor competition between them.

Are you saying you’ll concentrate on specific areas?

Taking an example from the novel “The Little Prince,” I want INU to be like the ‘Asteroid B-612,’ which has five distinct craters. We are planning to recruit 100 professors and place 20 of them in five areas each. We have selected three fields in biotechnology, one field in engineering and one field for humanities and social sciences.

What would you say is the strength of INU?

INU is located in Songdo, Incheon, which is currently one of the largest production bases of biomedicine in the world. There are companies like Samsung Biologics, Celltrion and Hanmi in the vicinity. I plan to position INU as a bio-centric research university, selecting three fields for concentration in biotechnology.

Why is bio so important?

Bio is the future. When I went to a bio convention in the United States, mechanical engineering scholars gathered and discussed the results of research on the leg structure of the grasshopper.

Even in the semiconductor industry, they are researching the layout of the human brain to develop next-generation memory semiconductors. Bio will have more than 10 times the impact in the next 30 years than the impact information technology has brought to our lives in the last 20 years, effectively changing how we live.

If it were possible, I would change our university’s name to “Incheon National Bio University.”

Is it important enough to change the name of a university?

If it is difficult to change the name, there have been some suggestions to put a prefix in front of college names, such as a bio business school or bio law school.

If every professor of our business school tries to research a specific industry such as bio, we could be Korea’s first and the world’s best business school. When our law school specifically focuses on law related to food and drug safety, we could become the world’s best bio law school.

In Japan’s case, business professors at the University of Tokyo and business professors at Hitotsubashi University concentrate their research on the automotive industry and semiconductor industry, respectively.

INU also has a satellite campus in Nam District, Incheon.

We are planning to operate what we call a “Tri-versity,” which means three universities at INU. We cannot be prepared for the “super-aged” society where the life expectancy is increasing up to 100 just by being a university that mostly takes in high school graduates. We are planning to provide education for people in their 40s and 60s in order to give them a whole new opportunity to live their lives.

You taught in China before you were elected as INU president.

I taught strategic studies for two years in Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in China as a full-time professor. China is very closely connected to Incheon in terms of geopolitics. With this in mind, we are planning to establish four to five university branches in major cities in China. In every branch, we will allow Chinese students to study there for a year and send them to Korea during their second to fourth year. On the other hand, we will allow Korean students to study at INU for one to three years and send them to China in their fourth year to prepare for their future.

Students will receive an INU diploma regardless of which branch they are studying in.

BY KANG HONG-JUN [lee.soowhan@joongang.co.kr]