Having split from North Korea in 1948 into a separately governed country, South Korea has since diverged considerably from its neighbor, developing into an internationally recognized Asian powerhouse in the fields of technology, education and tourism, to name but a few of its strengths.
Embracing both tradition and modernity, South Korea is a region of diverse cultures and lifestyles, influenced heavily by the western world, and notably by the US, while firmly holding onto the region’sown rich history and way of life.
Seoul, home to approximately 10.5 million people, is South Korea’s chaotic yet vibrant capital city, a must-see destination for many travelers and students alike.However, despite being so full of people, Seoul is still relatively easy to explore, thanks to the excellent transport infrastructures put in place to keep this high-tech industrial nation moving.
Life in South Korea
Even outside of the densely packed capital city, those who opt to study in South Korea may well experience some degree of culture shock, as they get to know this unique and multifaceted culture. Especially in the cities, the pace of life is fast and competitive, and the hot temperatures can also be relentless. You’ll even have to cope with finding yourself suddenly a year older – age is counted differently here!
But fear not, because peace and relaxation are also to be found, either atop mountain peaks, amidst the dense forests of South Korea’s famous national parks, in a traditional steam-filled Jjimjilbang (sauna), or on a Buddhist temple retreat where the day starts with meditation and pre-dawn chanting.Off the coast, a number of tranquil islands are also well within reach, offering local hospitality, fresh air and fresh fish.
You’ll need to seek out as much serenity as you can get in between term times, as education is taken very seriously in South Korea. It’s even been known for flight schedules to be changed and the stock market to be opened late in order to minimize noise for students during school exams. Don’t let this high-pressured environment put you off, however, as universities in South Korea offer some of the best educational facilities in the world, combined with relatively affordable tuition fees.
Universities in South Korea
Investment in education and research has been at the heart of the South Korea's growth into the world’s 13th largest economy and the third largest economy within Asia. It’s this investment and growth in innovation and technology that has meant the country is known as one of the four ‘Asian Tiger’ economies, alongside Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.
In 2004 the South Korean government set a target of attracting 100,000 foreign students to its universities by 2012 and by 2011 the country had enrolled over 85,000 international students from 171 different countries. Despite not quite reaching the target, this was a huge growth of 70,000 foreign students to study in South Korea in just ten years. Now the initiative has sets its sights even higher, with an aim of 200,000 international students by 2020.
As part of this ongoing focus on internationalization, several universities in South Korea, including Yonsei University, are opening new international campuses to meet growing demand, and five US universities are also set to open branches at the new Songdo Global University Campus, including the State University of New York (SUNY).
Currently there are more than 370 official South Korean higher education providers, including 179 private universities and 43 national universities.With all this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that plenty of internationals are looking to study in South Korea, which boasts no less than six top-20 entries in the 2014 QS University Rankings: Asia and 24 ranked institutions overall in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings®.
Seoul National University
The highest ranked of universities in South Korea, Seoul National University is ranked 34th in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings® and fourth in the 2014 QS University Rankings: Asia. Founded as late as 1946 as South Korea’s first national university, Seoul National University is one of the three prestigious “SKY” universities and provides research-led liberal education to over 30,000 students from undergraduate to PhD level. According to data collected by the Korean Educational Development Institute, Seoul National University spends more on its students per capita than any other Korean university with more than 10,000 students.
The school has two campuses in the city of Seoul, one in Gwanak on the southern side of the city and one within the city center in the district of Jongno, which is also the largest campus in the capital. Seoul National University also has an impressive portfolio of international partnerships; as many as 273 universities in 56 countries collaborate with the school.
Seoul National University has a strong performance in the 2014 QS World University Rankings: by Subject, where it appears within the global top 20 for chemistry, environmental studies and electrical engineering.
KAIST – Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology
Situated in Daejeon, KAIST – Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology, is the second-highest ranked Korean institution. A public research university with a current student population of just over 10,200, KAIST was established as the nation’s first research-led science and engineering institution. It ranks 60th in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings, second in the 2014 QS University Rankings: Asia, and came third in the 2013 QS Top 50 Under 50, a ranking of the world’s top 50 universities under 50 years old. The majority of programsat KAIST are within STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, and the university ranks among the world’s top 50 institutions for many of these subjects.
Just over a two-hour train ride south of the capital, KAIST boasts the technology smarts of the city of Daejeon, the fifth largest metropolis in South Korea and among the contenders for the title ‘Asia’s Silicon Valley’.
Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH)
Another university offering a science and technology focused curriculum, Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) is a private research university ranked joint 107th in the world, ninth in the Asia ranking, and fifth in the 2013 QS Top 50 Under 50. POSTECH’s vast 378 acre ‘smart campus’, located 20 minutes’ drive from downtown Pohang, includes not only all the usual facilities – student accommodation, cafés and so on – but also a digital library, a sports multiplex, beautiful gardens and water features, a sculpture park and a pub called the Log Cabin, which, true to its name, is built entirely from logs. There are also the renowned “78 stairs of horror”, which must be climbed to get from the dormitories to the lecture rooms – rather a daunting prospect if you’re running late for class.
POSTECH was also the first South Korean university to be officially labeled a bilingual campus in 2010, with the majority of events and programs at junior, senior and graduate level taught in both Korean and English.
The second-highest ranked university in the South Korean capital, Yonsei University is ranked 114th in the world. As a private research institution belonging to the prestigious “SKY” trio, Yonsei University is one of the oldest and largest universities in South Korea, with a current student body of over 38,700. Along with the exciting culture of Seoul, Yonsei University students can take part in many on-campus events and activities, including the annual Mooak Festival in the spring and the Yonsei-Korea Games in the fall. Common events include seminars, film festivals, concerts, exhibitions and sports competitions, giving the campus a highly social atmosphere.
In 2006, the university established the entirely English-medium Underwood International College, which is said to have contributed to a more globalized student culture within Yonsei University as a whole.
The third private research institutionincluded in the “SKY” trio and ranked 145th in the world, Korea University has a long-held rivalry with Yonsei University which can be seen in the many competitive sporting events between the two. Korea University currently has a student body of just over 25,100, and, of its faculty of 1,500, over 95% hold a PhD or equivalent within their field. The school’s college of law is widely recognized as one of the most prestigious undergraduate law programs in the country. The university, which boasts an Olympic-sized, on-campus ice rink, also ranks highly in communication and media studies, politics and economics.
Again located in Seoul, Korea University is departmentally divided across the city, with its main Anam campus just minutes away from a popularselection of restaurants, bars, shops and cultural attractions, including a famous Buddhist temple.
Other universities in South Korea
Also placing within the top 400 in the global rankings are Sungkyunkwan University (162nd in the world), Hanyang University (249th), Kyung Hee University (255th) and Ewha Womans University (362nd). All – with the exception of Kyung Hee University – are located within the capital, proving that Seoul really is a higher education hub.
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