Objectives and Types of Higher Education Institutions

The objectives of universities and colleges are to develop students' personality, teach and research the profound theories of science and arts necessary for national development and human society as a whole (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, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and pharmacy. Specific types and purpose of universities are described in the following table.

Higher education institutions include four-year universities and colleges, two or three-year junior and technical colleges, and graduate schools. In addition to regular four-year comprehensive universities, there are special types of universities and colleges depending on their purpose of establishment, such as universities of education where elementary school teachers are trained, industrial colleges for lifelong education, cyber universities based on information and communication technology, corporate colleges founded by companies to meet the needs of their employees, and polytechnic colleges for training job-related skills. Most universities have graduate schools, which offer master’s and doctoral programs. There are professional graduate schools in the fields of law, pharmacy and medicine, and specialized graduate schools in public administration, education, and business administration, where students pursue advanced degrees.

Source: A Window into Korean Education by the Korean Educational Development Institute

Objectives and Types of Higher Education Institutions
University Three or more colleges and graduate schools should be part of the campus for education and research in various domains of knowledge and disciplines.
Junior college Professional knowledge and theories about distinctive fields of society are educated and researched; skills necessary for the improvement of the state are taught, and professional personnel are trained.
Teacher's college Teachers' colleges are the initial teacher training institutes for elementary, middle, and high school teachers.
Industrial college Education on professional knowledge and/or research for the improvement of skills essential for the industrial sectors are carried out; highly-skilled industrial workforce is trained and higher education opportunities are offered to those who want to pursue further education.
Distance university
(Korea National Open University
and cyber colleges)
Human capital that the society needs is trained by providing them with an opportunity to pursue higher education via distance education using the information and communications media, thereby contributing to the development of lifelong education by realizing an open learning society.
Air & correspondence college Higher education opportunities are offered to individuals who did not have a chance to complete higher education courses and/or those who want to study graduate courses for self-improvement and growth via air and correspondence.
Technical college Technical colleges offer education to workers in different industries. Professional workforce is fostered to be equipped with both theory and practical skills to meet industrial needs. Graduation requirements include three years of studies, which is different from 4-year universities.
Corporate college Corporate colleges are designed and built by companies to train their own employees. According to the Lifelong Education Act, those who graduate from corporate colleges can obtain a bachelor's degree or a professional license.
Polytechnic college Polytechnics offer educational opportunities to a range of individuals, including school drop-outs, the highly educated but unemployed population, and the laid-off, as prescribed in the Workers Vocational Skills Development Act. It trains to produce a skilled workforce, multi-task technicians, and master craftsmen who will work in various industries and newly emerging fields.

History of Higher Education Institutions

The first university in Korea was Tae-hak founded in Goguryeo Dynasty (372 AC), 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 technocrats, 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 426 universities, almost by six times in 2021, which include 190 universities, 134 junior colleges, 45 graduate schools. Higher education system is implemented based on nearly forty-five relevant laws including the Framework Act on 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.

-Higher education institution ·2011: 432 ·2012:430 ·2013:431 ·2014: 431 ·2015:431 ·2016:430 ·2017:430 ·2018:430 ·2019:430 ·2020:429 ·2021:426 -university ·2011: 183 ·2012:189 ·2013:188 ·2014: 189 ·2015:189 ·2016:189 ·2017:189 ·2018:191 ·2019:191 ·2020:191 ·2021:190 -university of Education ·2011: 10 ·2012:10 ·2013:10 ·2014: 10 ·2015:10 ·2016:10 ·2017:10 ·2018:10 ·2019:10 ·2020:10 ·2021:10 -junior university ·2011: 147 ·2012:142 ·2013:140 ·2014: 139 ·2015:138 ·2016:138 ·2017:138 ·2018:137 ·2019:137 ·2020:136 ·2021:134 -etc ·2011: 51 ·2012:46 ·2013:50 ·2014: 49 ·2015:47 ·2016:47 ·2017:47 ·2018:47 ·2019:47 ·2020:47 ·2021:47 -Graduate school ·2011: 41 ·2012:43 ·2013:43 ·2014: 44 ·2015:47 ·2016:46 ·2017:46 ·2018:45 ·2019:45 ·2020:45 ·2021:45

Restructuring Higher Education institutions

Because of a dramatic decline in school-age population, the number of college freshmen in 2023 is predicted to drop by 160,000, compared to 2013. Colleges will soon face complex problems beyond their reach. Without government intervention, the imbalance between colleges in metropolitan areas and provinces is expected to be aggravated. Having fierce competition for a limited pool of prospective students, colleges may not be able to carry out their function properly in education and research. Hence, we initiated school restructuring to avoid deterioration in the quality of tertiary education.

Spurring innovation with autonomy and accountability and structural improvement in line with social change, on May 20, 2021, the Ministry of Education released the Support Strategy for Systematic College Management and Innovation and suggested the following three policy directions:

  • 1Actively support colleges to voluntarily adjust to optimal sizes to pursue self-sustaining innovation;
  • 2Induce financially and educationally unstable colleges to undergo drastic transformation, whereas those not showing improvement are closed;
  • 3Create a more collaborative higher education ecosystem between colleges in the metropolitan area and elsewhere, universities and junior colleges, as well as colleges in the same locality.

Higher education institutions include four-year universities and colleges, two or three-year junior and technical colleges, and graduate schools. In addition to regular four-year comprehensive universities, there are special types of universities depending on their purpose of establishment, such as universities of education where elementary school teachers are educated, industrial universities for lifelong education, cyber universities based on intra-company universities founded by companies to meet the needs of their employees, and polytechnic universities for training job-related skills. Most universities have graduate schools, which offer Master’s and doctoral programs. There are professional graduate schools in the areas of law, pharmacy and medicine, and specialized graduate schools in public administration, education, and business administration, where students pursue advanced degrees.


Government-funded scholarship

Tuition is relatively more expensive in Korea than in other OECD members—national and public colleges: $4,792, 8th place; private colleges: $8,582, 7th place (Education at a Glance 2021: OECD Indicators). The data from the Korean Educational Development Institute in 2020 show that the rate of advancement to colleges exceeded 70%. The burden of financing postsecondary education is continuously incurred. On this account, in 2012, we started the national scholarship program, aiming to ensure educational equity for those with willingness and ability regardless of circumstances, and has gradually expanded the scope of beneficiaries and benefit amounts. The budget will total 4,1348 trillion won in 2022—in 2012, it was 1,7500 trillion won. In principle, government-funded scholarship grants are differentiated based on household income and asset levels. For instance, Type I scholarship is granted directly to applicants meeting the income and asset levels and the minimum requirement for GPA. Students who have two or more siblings can also receive scholarship, whereas Type II scholarship is granted to students meeting specific requirements set by each university. Moreover, local talent enrolled in a college in a non-metropolitan area after graduating from a high school in the same non-metropolitan area can also receive a scholarship.

Start-up and Employment Support in Higher Education Institutions

To respond to the rising youth unemployment rate, we support higher education institutions to build their employment and start-up capacities. More specifically, we aims to: 1) support the development and implementation of customized curricula in collaboration of universities and industries; 2) establish an education model that strongly links universities and industries, and financially support universities to provide an education that meets industrial demands; 3) adopt industry-needs based curricula for local SMEs that play important roles in the national economy; and 4) revitalize a startup-friendly culture by building infrastructure in universities and creating an ecosystem that fully supports startups.

Through these efforts, we expect to alleviate skills mismatch by creating new employment opportunities.

Building Education and Research Capacities of Higher Education Institutions

The era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has dawned by the integration of ICT in our modern way of life. In other words, virtual and real worlds are connected by the networks of IoT (Internet of Things) and AI (artificial intelligence), ushering in a knowledge- and intelligence-intensive society. In this context, people equipped with both ideas and practical knowledge are the key infrastructure of this new society, and universities should nurture intelligent learners equipped with profound knowledge by improving their own educational and research capacities. With this in mind, we have 1) established K-MOOC (Korea-Massive Open Online Course) to allow everyone to benefit from online tertiary education courses anywhere, free of charge; 2) fully supported universities' foundational/liberal arts education, non-academic courses, and quality of teaching and learning to identify and proliferate exemplary cases of undergraduate studies; and 3) supported universities to promote master's and doctoral degree programs to create new knowledge and skills, and bring innovation based on creativity.

Admissions to Higher Education Institutions

Applicants to higher education institutions must have a high school diploma or an equivalent. Universities and colleges select students by examining high school records and the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) scores based on their own student selection criteria.

To prevent confusion among students and parents, we have simplified the admissions process by putting more emphasis on CSAT score and school records than on essay writing or other skills, based on the notion that these may be affected by external factors such as private tutoring and which high school they went to. We also make announcements of admissions policies and guidelines to the public well in advance to ensure students have ample time to prepare and plan for their college admissions. Students can also visit the College Admissions Information Portal and academic consulting centers to find the best school to match their intended career pathway.

Eligibility/Requirement for Admissions
Eligibility/Requirement for Admissions: CSAT, Transcript of High School Records, University Examination
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
Admission Types
Admission Types : Early Admission, Regular Admission, Additional Admission
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
Student Selections
Student Selections: Regular Admission, Special Admission(Within the Fixed Quota, Beyond the Fixed Quota)
Regular Admission Select applicants within the fixed quota, prospective students are considered based on transcripts of high school records, CSAT score, and university examinations
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 152,281 students as of 2021. Among them, students who pursue undergraduate degree is 120,018 students, and students in the non-degree course is 32,263 students. In order for foreign students to enter universities in Korea, Korean language ability is mainly evaluated, yet universities have different college entrance requirements.

Foreign Students in Higher Education
Foreign Students in Higher Education: Year, Degree course(Total, Associate degree, Under-graduate, Master, Doctor), Non-degree, Total
Year Degree course Non-degree Total
Total Associate
Under-graduate Master Doctor
2021 120,018 9,057 71,540 25,169 14,252 32,263 152,281
2020 113,003 6,800 68,051 24,996 13,156 40,692 153,695
2019 100,215 5,140 60,688 23,605 10,782 59,950 160,165

The number of foreign students includes all those in degree or non-degree courses.

Non-degree course includes students in language courses, jointly-operating curriculums, student exchange programs, visiting programs and others. Source : Education Statistics and Indicators, Pocket Book, 2021, KESS