and Its Development Directions:
by Professor Yang-Taek Lim
Key words : Education, University, College, A knowledge-based Society, Competitiveness
As human society steps towards a knowledge-based society, the required human abilities are changing. In the agricultural society, people who were physically strong and skillful were successful in the society. In the industrial society, people who had their own specialties or were good at businesses would succeed. In a knowledge-based society, a successful person is the one who owns 'knowledge'. Hence the word ‘knowledge’ means the ability to understand and manage information as well as to create 'new things', which will determine competitiveness.
How should individuals react to informationalization when human society progresses to a knowledge-based society? Hence, individuals in the society must strive to maintain their own competitiveness by acquiring additional ‘knowledge’ to enhance the ability to create ‘new things’. People must continue to strive to find new methods of working. Due to informationalization the method that an individual uses will quickly be revealed to others and it may easily be copied, Then, that method will no longer be competitive, and individuals will strive to create yet other new methods in order to maintain their own competitiveness.
What is the most effective method of maintaining knowledge? Among all of the institutions available, the university/college is the best place for developing knowledge effectively. That is why people in a knowledge-based society always attempt to maintain their knowledge with the support of the university/college. Recently, the university/college has been required to carry out not only the function of cultivating knowledge for undergraduate students, but also that of continuously maintaining knowledge for university/college graduates.
In the period of global village as a unified world, any individual or any nation cannot exist alone. Especially in a knowledge-based society, one cannot survive even though one is equipped with his or her own outstanding individual knowledge. It is because individual ability is not sufficient for competition without teamwork.
In the era globalization, collaboration should be ultimately formed between teams in the dimension of the global village. In the 21st century, we really need the people who are able to work together in this international dimension and to harmonize competition and mutual concession. Where does the wisdom of working together come from? It comes not only from the culture which provides a human being with the foundation of his or her growth, but also from the ability to understand and accept diverse, different cultures in the global village.
If the globalization trend is maintained and reinforced, the gap will be reduced between various cultures, which function to increase a sense of identity. But it will take us a long time to do so and, above all, it is uncertain that human beings will develop such a solid state of globalization. Furthermore, if a culture attempts to control or assimilate other cultures, such an attempt may bring about the reversal of the globalization process or its interruption. Therefore, globalization might be built on the assumption that different cultures exist in their various patterns. Globalization requires all the members of global village that they should be equipped with the ability to understand and accept various cultures.
In the globalized world, university/college education will cultivate a student's ability to understand and accept diverse cultures. The ability for working together does not just come from wisdom. It is also a matter of custom. It is necessary to work together as a daily experience. If they fall into the habit of collaborating with others having different cultures through university/college education and life, they will succeed in the globalized world. For this purpose, the university/college for the 21st century should teach students how to form good habits of collaboration through curricula or extra-curricula activities.
II. The Role of the University/college in a Knowledge-based Society
As Pasinetti (1981) proclaimed that knowledge by learning is the clearest source of growth. A major source of learning in a given society is the university/college. A university/college creates knowledge through education and research. Knowledge may also be created and maintained by business enterprises or governments, but such knowledge is very specific and limited. Hence, the university/college in a knowledge-based society is a key source of its competitiveness. A society can stay competitive only when knowledge is continuously created by the university/college.
(1) The government proposes to expand the opportunity for further and higher education. While a demand for learning is diverse and highly specialized, and while the necessity for re-education increases, the university/college is required to play a vital role in lifelong learning. In the future, the university/college will expand its function as a place for teaching undergraduates, the university/college graduates, and those who missed the opportunity for the university/college education. Gradually, the proportion of the non-degree learners to undergraduates will increase.
(2) The government proposes to reinforce a connection between learning and work places. A knowledge-based economy is a unified economy of working and learning. The government pays much attention to encouraging and supporting highly-qualified people to update their knowledge through continuing professional development and to apply it to their jobs.
government proposes to set up and operate individual learning accounts. This is
a new strategy for mainly supporting lifelong learning for laborers - a program
for supporting the investment in learning that the Department of Education in
(4) The government proposes to expand investment in learning for adolescents. With the rapid increase of knowledge and information in a modern society, we are forced to learn more and more. It is true that the government has allowed every school to establish its own curriculum. But the government will determine the common curriculum for all citizens, which should be completed by every school. And the government will make great efforts to give adolescents the opportunity for continuous learning after graduating high school.
(5) By setting up Adult Learners' Week, the government will exert all possible efforts to emphasize the importance of adult education and to develop basic knowledge for comprehension and mathematical principles. Adult Learners' Week is to be held from 17 May 1999 to 23 May 1999, and its title is designated as "It's Never Late”. This program is to emphasize the necessity for adult education and to inspire and motivate learners.
III. Korean Education System
Secondly, another serious problem that
As private tutoring becomes an ordinary way of
life for a majority of students in
Thirdly, the wide spread of private tutoring has also made a devastating impact on formal schooling. Since most students are not interested in school activities that are not helpful to improve the test scores for university/college entrance, the significance of formal school curriculum were reduced to the preparation for the entrance examination. Periodical revision of the curriculum seems to have little effect on the normalization and revitalization of teaching and learning activities in schools. As the effectiveness of school instruction for university/college entrance examination becomes questionable, students and parents are increasingly dissatisfied and distrustful of schools and teachers, resulting in so called “the collapse of school education.” According to the results of the PISA(Programme for International Student Assessment) 2003, 28 percent of Korean students agreed with the statement that schools have done little to prepare them for life and 10 percent of students considered schools a waste of time (OECD, 2004).
Being tired of endless and futile competition
and of high cost of private tutoring, more and more students and parents are
seeking for alternative educational opportunities abroad. The percentage of
middle school students leaving
The increasing private educational expenditure
may have caused the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in social
classification system. According to a latest newspaper report, the private
educational expenditure spent by the upper 10 percent of households is almost
eight times more compared to that spent by the lowest 10 percent of households
(Joongang Il-bo, August 9, 2005). As the academic achievement and the chance of
getting into prestigious universities are likely to be influenced by students’
The image of blissfully-idle university/college students is a thing of the past. On campuses today students seem to study so much harder than in the past. The overheated atmosphere in university/college libraries show present-day students’ enthusiasm. Even freshmen, unlike in the past, never skip a lecture or homework. They really study hard and worry how difficult their first university/college exams will be.
On the surface, this change in campuses seems quite a positive development since in general, a hard-working student is well regarded. However, such a tendency also reveals an aspect of an excessively competitive society. Moreover, today’s students are really passive, just adapting themselves to their circumstances. Most of the hard-working students on campus are striving to achieve the same things: getting a job or passing examinations for higher office. They are not hard at work in pursuit of learning. Instead of intellectual goals, what they want are only good grades and brilliant careers. This is why the atmosphere in the library cools down as soon as universities/colleges exams end. Students greatly value a chance to join a good company that pays high salaries, and competition for such a chance is keen. Thus, it is hard to praise the intentions of today’s hard-working students.
Where then do their long-cherished childhood dreams go? The author thinks that today’s competitive society made them lose their own dreams. However, society shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. Students’ passivity bears scrutiny. Living in a society where only winners thrive, students become blind to where they are heading and what they really want. Instead, they do what the competitive society compels them to do. They have been so driven by the spirit of competition that they can not distinguish their own desires and values from what society tells them. What makes their situation worse is that they do not even bother to criticize the harsh competitive system in which they struggle, tired as they are of it. They just accept what they are dealt, and make desperate efforts to survive in this society like cowards.
In the 18th legislative elections held on April 9, 2008, the turnout of voters in their 20s, which includes most university/college students, were the lowest on record. This shows how much today’s students are indifferent toward social issues. One might say they are busy chasing good grades, although there might be another reason for the lowest turnout. This passive aspect of today’s students differentiates them from students in the past. Students in earlier years were much more critical of social problems. They knew more about what they want out of life, although they seemed to care less about learning. And they played an important role as they spearheaded movements for advancement and change in our society.
However, even if students in the past cared much about social issues and tried to bring about social progress, many problems are arising in today’s society led by them. What will the society of the future that we shape be like? The author is very worried about it.
IV. Suggestions for Reform in the Korean Education System
1. Provision of Autonomy to School
The Korea Ministry of Education, Science and
Technology under the Lee Administration recently announced a plan to give the
schools more autonomy. The plan has generated a considerable amount of
controversy. Some opponents are rallying in protest. The government’s April 15
measure to give schools autonomy is a new opportunity to improve education in
The central government has provided local
education offices with the authority to oversee schools in their districts, but
the local offices must not rule over schools as supervisors. Instead, local
offices must ensure that schools have autonomy and support their autonomy. In
addition, local offices have to help build networks among schools that have
know-how on school management, such as
The central government must not become complacent now that it has handed off its duties to local education offices and schools. The central government is still duty-bound to support underprivileged schools and students in farming and fishing villages and poor districts in urban areas. State-owned research institutes, such as the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation and the Korean Educational Development Institute, can identify examples of successful schools and help publish guidelines or organize consultations on how to run schools.
The purpose of giving schools autonomy is to create greater diversity in education. From now on schools don’t need to have standardized curricula and can offer choices. But new curricula must be drawn according to students’ demand, not according to the arbitrary and unilateral decisions of the head of the school. This is why schools that have autonomy must be kept in check and monitored through school evaluations. Autonomy and responsibilities come hand-in-hand. However, it may be questioned whether the Korean society has an environment in which school principals have the authority and accountability to run the schools and teachers can devote themselves to education, according to their conscience and conviction. The various educational demands of the students, parents and communities have never been sufficiently reflected in the operation of the schools.
So far, the Korea Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has issued various orders about the specifics of school operations, according to the Korea Elementary and Middle School Act. The principals were considered to be competent when they followed orders properly. In reality, many of Korean teachers feel sorry for the students because they could not afford to spend more time for them. Instead, the teachers have to deal with filling out more than 5,000 official documents every year.
Now, the Korean schools have to change and we
should let them change. If
The latest hands-off plan of the Korean government doesn’t mean the central government should slack off in its responsibility to educate the public. There should be sufficient administrative and financial assistance to reduce the gaps between schools in terms of their educational finances and facilities. Moreover, autonomy does not mean the central government’s responsibilities are simply handed over to the municipal and provincial boards of education. There would be no improvement if the boards of education were given expanded authority without making any substantial changes to the schools.
As schools are given increased autonomy, principals should feel more responsibility and reasonably accommodate the educational demands of the students, parents, the local community and educational groups to enhance satisfaction and create a happy learning ground for the students.
We are truly working for the sake of the students when we lift the various restrictions that have mummified the schools. Narrow thought holds that giving schools autonomy means every school in the country must implement advanced classes and additional periods all at the same time. The point is that schools can reflect in their curriculum the opinions of the students and parents, as well as in after-school programs and sample tests.
The Korean government’s plan should provide an opportunity for schools to resolve the various educational demands of the students and ultimately reinforces public education. The teachers are playing the central role here, and their efforts are as important as ever. The educational authorities should also provide appropriate measures to accommodate the added burdens on the teachers.
2. Some Directions of University/College Education System
As previously discussed, the 21st century will be the century of the knowledge-based and globalized society. Therefore, university/college education should be reformed in such a way that it can educate students who can meet the demand of the knowledge-based and globalized society. Therefore, the author would like to suggest the following direction of university/college education reform for the 21st century.
(1) University/college education should provide teachers and students with teaching and learning methods, which are needed to develop the creativity of students. The methods include discussion based class, learners' leading class, frequent reports and presentations, study group activities, etc. In other words, university/college education should not teach summarized information but train the students to produce new information and utilize various and abundant sources of information. The primary ability requires in a knowledge-based society is not just to adapt ourselves to given circumstances but to solve problems in various ways in the face of new situations. In the future, society will be changing so quickly that people will be challenged in their everyday life or working environments by different situations or problems, which we haven't experienced. In this respect, university/college education should provide creative knowledge in a specialized area based upon a wide range of general education and fundamental academics.
(2) University/college should not be little the importance of humanities such as the study of history, philosophy, religion, literature and arts, which are essential to cultivate a student's ability to understand cultural differences and collaborate based on mutual understanding. To the contrary, many universities/colleges in the world tend to focus excessively on commercial utility, and the students have accordingly neglected the studies of the liberal arts. The university should place more importance on the humanities such as history, philosophy, religion, literature and arts, which are essential to cultivate students' ability to understand cultural differences and to collaborate with others based on the mutual understanding. All students have to learn the wisdom of understanding a variety of different cultures through the thorough study of the humanities in both quantity and quality.
(3) It is needed that students practice collaboration with other people through their university/college life in order to develop the ability of cooperation in the global village. The effective way of achieving this ability is to participate in extracurricular activities. Students can develop their ability of collaborating with other people who have different backgrounds through these activities through activities such as pursuing their hobbies, participating in public service or labor service corps; and the protection of the environment.
(4) Universities/college in the 21st century have to expand their role in a society by providing an educational opportunity to the persons who need reeducation and retraining after graduating from university/college, and also to the people who have lost their opportunities to attend school when they were school aged, through various programs such as university/college degree programs, graduate degree programs, and non-degree programs. Furthermore, they need to continue to change their curriculum in the continuing education programs to meet the demand of contemporary society.
(5) It is more effective to adopt a multilateral cooperation strategy with a group of the university from various countries in order to pursue university/college education reforms to meet the demands of the 21st century in the global village today. A greater synergistic effect of educational reform can be expected through international exchange of students and professors, international collaboration of the research on effective teaching method, exchange program of extra-curricular activities, and exchange programs of continuing education by this multilateral cooperation.
Finally, in an attempt to resolve the crisis of university education, the author would like to assert that the Korean society may consider the ‘entrepreneurial academic paradigm’ of the ‘triple-helix’ (of university–industry–government relations) in which the university plays an enhanced role in technological innovation in a knowledge-based society for a ‘third-mission’ of economic development (Etzkowitz et. al., 2000) in addition to research and teaching (Readings, 1996). The ‘third mission’ implies improving regional or national economic performance as well as financial advantage of a university and that of its faculty. In connection with the ‘third mission’, it is worthwhile to note that there is a shift underway from the economics of the production function to the socio-economic processes of the contemporary innovation system with universities as part of a new knowledge infrastructure. This transformation has been analyzed by Smith (1997) on the role of university R&D in the ‘knowledge infrastructure’ for production. Based on the preceding discussions, the roles of the university can be summarized by supply of high-quality human capital to a given economy’s ‘production function’, thereby enhancing total factor productivity of a given society and expanding its employment.
Table 1. Summative Chart of the University–Industry–Government Relationship
Source : Henry Etzkowitz, Andrew Webster, Christiane Gebhardt, and Branca
V. Concluding Remarks
Educational crisis is the most serious and scary one that
Under the previously-described situation, every
Korean talks about the importance of education. However, almost all of the
people are increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of
Brooks, H. (1993),
“Research Universities and the Social Contract for Science”, In Empowering Technology, ed., L. Bramscomb,
Etzkowitz, Henry, Andrew Webster,
Christiane Gebhardt and Branca
Krimsky, S. (1991), “Academic–Corporate Ties in Biotechnology: a Quantitative Study”, Science Technology and Human Values, Vol. 16 (pp. 275~287)
Yang-Taek (1995), “Crisis in
Lim, Yang-Taek (2000), “Development Strategy for Korea-Chinese
Economic Cooperation in the 21st Century,” paper presented at International
Symposium: Chinese Association of Social Science,
OECD (2004), “OECD
Economic Survey of 2004: Electricity Sector”,
Pasinetti, L. L. (1981), Structural Change and Economic Growth,
Pelikan, J. (1992), “The Idea of the
University: A Re-examination”,
K. (1997), “Economic Infrastructures and Innovation Systems”, In Systems of Innovation, ed., Edquist, C.,
 However, many academics and others view such an ‘entrepreneurial’ academic paradigm as a threat to the traditional integrity of the university (Pelikan, 1992). Some critics believe entrepreneurialism should be resisted (Brooks, 1993) or at least encapsulated in a special class of institutions of higher learning, fearing that an intensive pecuniary interest will cause the university to lose its role as independent critic of society (Krimsky, 1991).
 The international comparison of nation and university competitiveness showed the following result that US ranks 1st and 4th ; Hong Kong 2nd and 21st; Singapore 3rd and 7th; Island 4th and 3rd:, Canada 5th and 8th; Finland 6th and 1st; and Korea 29th and 52nd, respectively (IMD, 2005; a total of 60 countries).
 As of 2007, there are
201 universities (4 year course) and 153 community colleges (2 year course) in
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