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Internationalization is key to Keimyung’s success

President hopes more foreign students can boost competitiveness
Nov 09,2019
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Synn Il-hi, 79, president of Keimyung University, talks about the importance of internationalization during a recent interview at the university in Daegu. [KEIMYUNG UNIVERSITY]
As Korea’s youth engage in fierce competition to get into universities in Seoul, universities outside the capital are suffering from a decreasing number of freshmen. A school located in Daegu is trying to overcome this crisis through what its president calls, “internationalization.”

“Local universities cannot last unless they stop imitating, competing with and comparing themselves to other four-year universities located in Seoul,” said Synn Il-hi, 79, president of Keimyung University in Daegu.

Keimyung University was founded in 1899 by American missionaries. In 1979, the university established a college of foreign studies for the first time in Korea’s history and Synn said this led to a trend of internationalization among Korean universities.

“We will make Keimyung University an internationalization school so that other four-year universities located in Seoul cannot take us lightly,” Synn said. “Internationalization is not just a way to promote the school, but a well-prepared challenge.”

Keimyung University marked its 120th anniversary this year. The JoongAng Ilbo recently sat down with Synn at the university’s Seongseo Campus in Daegu.

Below are edited excerpts of the interview.



Q. Keimyung University is well known to many people in Daegu, but despite this it is still facing difficulties. Why do you think this is?

A
. As a local university, we are struggling due to a decrease in the population, students’ preferences for universities located in Seoul, and tuition that has been frozen for over 10 years. Fortunately, we don’t suffer from a decline in the number of freshmen as the competition rate for our regular admissions is so high. However, it is true that we become more sensitive and nervous around the time students submit their college applications.



Do you think that more students would apply to your university if your facilities improve?

A tight budget is the biggest barrier to the development of the university. To compete fairly with the universities located in Seoul, local universities need to escape their own “regionality.” This means we have to make reasons for students to choose us over other universities located in Seoul and Gyeonggi. The surest way is to make ourselves a well-known university by improving our quality. We need to have superior professors and students, upgrade school facilities, develop scholarship programs and provide more financial support for our professors’ research. This is the reason why we can’t distinguish between the issue of improving school quality from that of the budget.



Do you think that internationalization is the solution?

Keimyung University’s internationalization will be realized by accepting more outstanding foreign students, providing them with good education so that they can grow as global leaders, and training Korean students as well in the process. If Keimyung University receives many foreign students and becomes a well-known school in foreign countries, more students will come to Daegu. At least in foreign countries, Keimyung University can be a school more popular than other universities located in Seoul.



The process of internationalization doesn’t seem easy. What’s your plan?

Internationalization starts from language and a breakaway from a sense of cultural difference. For successful internationalization, we need many outstanding professors who conduct high-level research. Professors who can understand foreign cultures are also needed. Keimyung University already has some basic requisites. Of the 1,294 professors at our university, about 11 percent of them, or around 144, are foreigners from 30 different countries including Canada. This proportion of foreign professors is such an exceptional figure among many local universities. I think this is the easiest and quickest way to become an internationalized school.



Isn’t accepting a large number of foreign students difficult to put into practice?

Among the 23,394 students enrolled at Keimyung University, about 10 percent of them are foreign students from 73 different countries including France. Almost all of these foreign students were enrolled through the university’s Korean Language Institute and Sejong Hakdang [the government-sponsored King Sejong Institute dedicated to the promotion of the Korean language and hangul]. The Korean Language Institute has been teaching foreign students located in Indonesia, China and Vietnam. By expanding these kinds of facilities all over the world, which is helpful to increase the awareness of Korea, we plan to accept more foreign students. As more and more foreign students enter Keimyung University, a community will form among them, and through it, more foreign students will apply to our school. We made the slogan for this semester “International Professors and Students Semester.”



Does Keimyung University support Korean students who want to study abroad?

The university currently collaborates with 347 foreign universities from 64 different countries, as well as 46 overseas institutions. It’s a system to provide students with dual degrees at foreign universities. We have ties to many famous universities around the world including Eastern Michigan University, DigiPen Institute of Technology, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the United States; Saint-Petersburg State University in Russia; and Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Students can receive systematic support from our school as well. As they naturally mingle in terms of language and culture with foreign students, Korean students will also be able to grow into global leaders.

BY KIM YOUN-HO, CHEA SARAH [chea.sarah@joongang.co.kr]