Oh Se-jung: South Korea’s top university

Oh Se-jung is a person with a heavy burden. Though he leads South Korea’s most prestigious college, an establishment largely shielded from the existential disaster that threatens to engulf a lot of the nation’s increased training sector, he’s deeply involved about the way forward for the nation’s different establishments.

“After all we get pleasure from recognition and status, but additionally a heavier expectation and sense of duty are positioned upon us,” stated the president of Seoul Nationwide College (SNU). Instances Greater Schooling within the newest in our Speaking Management sequence.

A report revealed late final 12 months predicted that just about half of South Korea’s 385 universities may shut within the subsequent quarter century. Oh believes the scenario might be much more dire. Based mostly on projections from pupil cohorts, “20 years from now, solely about 40 universities the scale of SNU can be wanted,” he says.

Some establishments now not admit sufficient college students to stay viable, and it is a explicit drawback for sure areas of the nation, he says. The capital, Seoul, and its environment are house to over 50% of the inhabitants and a good increased share of the youthful technology. It is the agricultural universities that may’t appeal to sufficient college students, “so they may collapse in a number of years,” provides Oh.

He worries concerning the knock-on impact of closures on native economies and communities: “If the college is closed, the local people can also be in danger. In the end, it actually destroys your complete college ecosystem and likewise the nationwide financial system. So it is a huge drawback.”

Oh thinks the answer lies in strengthening rural universities to draw college students and strengthen native economies. “In the event that they grow to be stronger in analysis capability, they will create jobs by creating start-ups and collaborating with native industries,” he says.

SNU is working to enhance these universities by providing alternate packages that enable their college students to spend a semester or a 12 months at SNU. Throughout Covid, they have been compelled to go surfing, however the establishment hopes to return to face-to-face exchanges quickly.

The opposite resolution, says Oh, is to emphasise lifelong studying. Nonetheless, that can require a change, he explains, as a result of simply 20 years in the past universities have been driving the wave of an abundance of younger college students, and so weren’t investing in persevering with training. The federal government additionally spends much less on lifelong studying than different developed nations, he says. “We’ve got to alter the angle of the federal government and universities.”

Subsequent month, South Korea could have a brand new authorities; Conservative Folks’s Energy Get together candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, who gained by a hair’s breadth, will take over. Oh hopes the federal government will acknowledge that strengthening rural universities will assist the financial system, though he says he’s uncertain of the brand new president’s place as a result of increased training was not a political problem in the course of the election marketing campaign.

The weakening of different universities in South Korea presents a singular drawback for Oh and SNU. Not like america, for instance, the place many prestigious universities focus on sure disciplines, SNU has to develop its community.

“If we miss an instructional subject, that subject can not actually survive in our nation,” says Oh.

When he was president of SNU greater than a decade in the past, Oh invited 40 professors from different nations to judge the college, and a typical remark was that it was very sparse contemplating the scale of the departments. The reply, in accordance with Oh, once more lies in strengthening different universities – “so we are able to share our burden with them”.

partial publication

Another excuse Oh needs all Korean universities to up their sport is to combat prejudice within the publishing world. He spent a number of years within the US early in his profession, and whereas he was at Stanford College, he had no issues submitting articles to main journals. When he returned to South Korea and offered what he felt was his greatest work thus far, the article was rejected with a remark suggesting he learn a number of the elementary analysis on his topic.

“I obtained the sensation that that is actually biased. I did not have that type of remark after I was within the States. After I submitted an article, no one stated you need to learn all these classics,” he says.

Though the incident befell 40 years in the past, when South Korea’s analysis functionality was much less superior, editorial bias continues to be a priority for Oh: “To be actually aggressive on the earth market, all our establishments should enhance. In any other case, there can be prejudice towards you.”

Oh studied at SNU and says he by no means needed to do something however grow to be an instructional. After finishing a doctorate at Stanford and spending three years working in analysis labs throughout the US, he returned to SNU as a professor and taught for over 30 years.

“I assumed loads about whether or not to remain in america or return to Korea. And what I noticed was that if I stayed in america, I’d have a cushty life, however I’d simply be one in every of them. But when I went again to Korea on the time, it may change Korean tutorial society,” he says.

Combating polarization

A method he hopes to enhance his nation is to combat what he sees as rising polarization.

“Many beliefs should not based mostly on goal info,” he says. “[People] are inclined to solely take heed to what they like.”

SNU’s providing is a newly created Institute for Future Technique – a multidisciplinary assume tank that can present the general public and authorities with goal knowledge and info. The institute has 5 analysis subjects, one in every of which is polarization and the disaster of democracy.

Though South Korea is democratic and the latest normal election had an especially excessive turnout, Oh says “folks are inclined to go to extremes.”

His school experiences this drawback along with his college students, and Oh even sees it in his personal social circle.

“After I speak to my pals, they’re actually polarized. they argue [with] one another. They can’t attain a consensus,” he says. “We’ve got to attempt to perceive the explanations and the prices and attempt to see what we are able to do to reduce this drawback.”

The brand new institute can even analysis the low start charge and getting old inhabitants and the oblique impact this has on society, in addition to on pandemics and the way forward for science and expertise. One other focus can be on altering the world order.

Due to its geographic location, South Korea is “on the forefront of conflicts between america and Russia or China,” says Oh. “We’re involved concerning the Soviet and American battle. Korea is admittedly within the center, so we’ve to fret about that and what to anticipate.”

South Korea’s greatest buying and selling accomplice is China, however it’s militarily aligned with the US, he explains.

“China would not like what we do to america,” he says, including that 5 years in the past China stopped displaying Korean movies as an expression of dissatisfaction with South Korea.

On the subject of Korean cultural exports, what does Oh take into consideration the brutally violent depiction of his nation portrayed in Netflix’s international hit squid sport?

“I really feel prefer it reveals some points of our society, Korean society, which is admittedly very aggressive in each side,” he says.

Oh believes the nation must be extra collaborative: “We’ve got to provide second possibilities to many extra folks”. Your work at SNU and strengthening the broader South Korean increased training system can just do that.


Fast Info

Born: Seoul, 1953

Educational {qualifications}:Bachelor of Physics from Seoul Nationwide College; PhD in Physics from Stanford College

Lives with:His spouse; he has a daughter

Educational hero:German physicist Werner Heisenberg


That is a part of our sequence of fifty “Speaking Management” interviews over 50 weeks with the individuals who run the world’s prime universities on how they clear up widespread strategic points and implement change. Observe the sequence right here.

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