The purposes of universities and colleges are to develop students' personality, teach and research the profound theories of science and arts necessary for the development of the nation and human society (Article 28 of the Higher Education Act). Higher education is provided to high school graduates or individuals with equivalent academic abilities approved by relevant laws in Korea, and a bachelor's degree or a professional license is conferred to those who complete the curriculum. The years required for university graduation are two to four years for Junior Colleges and four years for universities, yet two years of preparatory courses and thus six years in total are required for the fields of medicine, traditional Asian medicine, dental, veterinary medicine, and pharmacology. Specific types and purpose of universities are described in the following table.
|University||Has three or more colleges and graduate schools for education and research in various domains of knowledge|
|Junior College||Teach and research professional knowledge and theory about distinctive fields of society, enhance skills necessary for the improvement of the state and train professional personnel|
|University of Education||Educate teachers for elementary, middle, and high schools|
|Industrial University||Educate professional knowledge and/or research for the improvement of skills essential for the industrial sectors; train industrial manpower and offer higher education opportunities to individuals who want to pursue education|
|Cyber University(Distance University)||Use computers and/or ICT for teaching, academic activities, and management of academics through distant learning|
|Air & Correspondence University||Provide new university opportunities by air and correspondence to individuals who did not have educational opportunities to complete university courses and/or those who want to pursue post-university education for self-improvement and growth|
|Technical College||Provide university education for workers employed in industries. Train necessary professional personnel with theory and practical business abilities for the needs of industries. The years required to graduate technical colleges are less than three years, and thus they differ from four-year industrial universities|
|Intra-company University||Established by an industry for employees. Based on the Lifelong Education Act, graduates of authorized intra-company universities can obtain a bachelor's degree or a professional license|
|Polytechnic University||Educate school drop-outs, highly educated unemployed personnel, laid-off individuals and so forth based on the Workers Vocational Skills Development Act. It trains skilled human resources, multi-task technicians, master craftsmen, and so forth for the national industry and newly established industrial fields|
The first university in Korea was Tae-hak founded in Goguryeo Dynasty (372 BC), where children of noble and/or elites learned scriptures, martial arts, and so forth. Since then, Kuk-hak in Tongil Shilla Dynasty (682 AC), Guk-ja-gam in Gyoryeo Dynasty (992 AC), Sung-gyun-gwan in Joseon Dynasty were established as an institution that cultivates Confucianism. In the time of enlightenment, various professional schools were established to educate technocratics, however, they did not advance into university-level schools in the Japanese Colonial era due to suppressions and higher education control policies. In this context, higher education institutions in Korea included one university named Gyungsung Jaeguk University and about twenty public and private professional schools in 1945. Since Korea became independent, National Seoul University which was an integrated school of Gyungsung Jaeguk University and government professional schools was established. Private schools known as professional schools also received government authorization; the number of authorized universities increased to twenty universities by 1947. It included eight national public universities and twelve private universities. Since then, university education in Korea expanded dramatically; seventy universities in 1965 increased to 432 universities, almost by six times in 2016, which include 189 universities, 138 junior colleges, 46 graduate schools. Higher education system is implemented based on nearly forty-five relevant laws including the Framework Acton Education and Higher Education Act. In principle, management methods and contents of universities are autonomously decided by the university, and the government provides various financial support in order for the university to operate in a socially desirable way.
|Total Number of Higher Education Institutions||Number of Higher Education Institutions by University Types|
University entrance rate in Korea (percentage of individuals who enter higher education institutions out of all graduates) increased from 33% (1990) to 71% (2015). The number of Phd degree recipients increased from 2,500 (1990) to 13,000 (2015), and Korea's ranking with regard to published SCI journals went up from 34th (1990) to 12th(2015) out of 180 countries; thus, Korea has achieved an eye-opening progress, producing such quantitative growth. However, due to the decline of school-age population and the upcoming age of creative economy, the government has supported the qualitative reform of universities to fulfill the needs of students and society. Main policies are as follows:
Due to the dramatic decline of school-age population, the number of students entering universities in 2023 is expected to be reduced by 160,000 compared to 2013. The issue is extensive in its realm to the extent in which universities cannot independently resolve it, and it may exacerbate the disparity between universities in metropolitan and provincial areas without the government intervention. In addition, universities may not be able to fulfill their own roles and functions (e.g., education, research, and research cooperation) due to a possible competition between schools with regard to student admission rates. In order to respond to the issue and prevent the decline of quality in higher education, the government has started restructuring universities. That is, with the aim to enhance the quality of higher education, the government has reduced the entrance quota through the conduction of university evaluations, providing consulting to universities placed at the lower ranking. Universities at the marginal level may be requested to close down or change their function into non-profit foundations, social welfare foundations, and vocational education institutions.
There has been a mismatch between the supply and demand of labor market, in which industries experience a high number of issues concerning manpower shortage while youths face difficulties in transitioning from school to work. As a result, the government has supported universities to restructure the organization of undergraduate programs based on the prospective number of students, adjusting the entrance quota and establishing departments/majors relevant to the industrial demands. In particular, the government has promoted 1) implementation of curriculum and field work linked to local industries, and support locals/industries/universities in training talented learners customized to industrial sectors, and 2) support of universities' liberal arts competencies, promoting the foundational academics of humanities and enhancing social adaptive abilities of students in the liberal arts stream.
As the youth unemployment rate is gradually increasing, the government has supported the employment and start-up competencies of universities. More specifically, the government has aimed to 1) establish an education model that strengths the employment link, having universities and industrial sectors collaborate in implementing and developing a customized curriculum, 2) financially support universities to structure and implement field work and educational conditions that meet the industrial needs, 3) adopt a industry-needs based curriculum for small to mid-sized industries in local areas, which take an important role in the national economy, and 4) revitalize the start-up culture by organizing start-up friendly infrastructure within universities, creating a start-up ecosystem and supporting start-ups, and so forth.
Through these efforts, the government expects to alleviate the mismatch phenomena of human resources and create new employment opportunities.
The modern society is known to be the fourth industrial revolution period created by the integration of ICT. That is, virtual and real life are connected by network based on IoT (Internet of Things) and artificial intelligence, making a more knowledgeable and intelligent society. The core infrastructure of such society is members who have both ideas and practical knowledge, and it is necessary for universities to raise knowledge-based intelligent learners by strengthening their education and research competencies. With this regard, the government 1) has established K-MOOC (Korea-Massive Open Online Course) so that anyone at anywhere can take online college courses at free of cost, 2) has intensely supported universities' foundational/liberal arts education, non-academic courses, and quality of teaching and learning to find and expand outstanding cases of undergraduate education, and 3) has supported universities to raise individuals in master's and doctoral programs who can create new knowledge and skills and support innovation on the on the basis of creativity.
Korea's tuition rate is comparatively high among all OECD countries (as of 2014), and financial burden for annual tuitions have continued to rise. Thus, the government has implemented a national scholarship support system since 2012 that aims to provide all individuals to receive higher education opportunities regardless of financial conditions. The main direction of this program is to reduce the university tuition burden of students and parents, yet provide customized support based on the household income and assist those with higher financial burdens due lower socioeconomic status. About 1 trillion 750 billion Korean won of budget for the first year of the national government scholarship has doubled to 3 trillion 654.5 billion Korean Won, and the government has strengthened the support for university students from the lower socioeconomic status. The national scholarship has two types, in which type 1 provides the same allocated amount of scholarship based on students' socioeconomic status and type 2 provides support by linking the reduction of university tuition and scholarships. Since 2014, a new national scholarship has been established which aims to alleviate tuition burden of multi-child families (families with more than three children).
In order for individuals to enter universities, they need a recognition of their high school academic abilities (prospective graduates and/or those with equivalent abilities based on the law), and eligibility/required documents used to select university students include transcripts of high school records, CSAT (College Scholastic Ability Test) score, university examinations, and so forth.
University admission screening procedures include transcripts of high school records screening, comprehensive school records screening, essay screening, performance screening (including special ability screening), and CSAT screening; the ratio of each of the screening types, screening methods, and screening process is decided by the university. In particular, the comprehensive school records screening that evaluates students' talents, aptitudes, and relevant activities in non-academic fields beyond academic grades have been emphasized since 2007 to transit away from a grade-oriented university screening system.
In order to improve the quality of high school education, the government has directed universities to screen applicants based on high school anecdotal records, and has worked to implement policies with regard to university entrance procedures and provide easy access to students and parents.
|CSAT||CSAT is a standardized test that examines individuals' abilities for entering a university. Contents of CSAT include Korean language, mathematics, English, Korean history, exploratory (social studies, sciences, vocational education), foreign language, and Chinese characters|
|Transcript of High School Records||Transcript of high school records entail data of students' high school academics and life in the 'academics' section and students' volunteer activities, certificates, and award history in the 'non-academics' section|
|University Examination||Universities carry out diverse examinations as part of the applicant screening procedure such as essays, interviews (verbal statements), aptitude examinations for the major, performance tests and so forth|
|Early Admission||Applicants apply in September, and universities announce successful applicants in December. Applicants are allowed to apply up to 6 four-year universities for early decision admissions, and screening procedures commonly include student academic screening, students' comprehensive screening, performance screening (including special ability screening)|
|Regular Admission||Applicants apply in December, and universities announce successful applicants in February. Applicants are allowed to apply up to 3 universities for regular admissions, and screening procedures include CSAT screening and essay screening|
|Additional Admission||Universities requesting to have additional applicants after early and regular admissions receive more applicants in February|
|Regular Admission||Select applicants within the fixed quota, prospective students are considered based on transcripts of high school records, CSAT score, and university examinations|
|Special Admission||Within the Fixed Quota||Select applicants based on special experiences, talents, and so forth. Applicants who need affirmative action are also considered|
|Beyond the Fixed Quota||Select students beyond the fixed quota based on the relevant laws regarding affirmative action (e.g., students from low socioeconomic status, students from rural areas, students with special needs, vocational high school graduates)|
The number of foreign students in Korea is 104,262 students as of 2016. Among them, students who pursue undergraduate degree is 63,104 students (60.5%), and students in the non-degree course is 41,158 students (39.5%). In order for foreign students to enter universities in Korea, Korean language ability is mainly evaluated, yet universities have different college entrance requirements.
|Number of Foreign Students in Korea|