In a press conference on August 16, Lee Ju-Ho announced the plan to attract 300,000 international students to the country by 2027 in the wake of its ageing population crisis, which has resulted in a “rapid decline” in the number of school-age citizens.
Earlier this year, statistics showed that 205,167 international students were enrolled in institutions across the country by March 2023.
The plan includes an increase in the quota of government scholarships, which will primarily be aimed at universities outside of larger urban areas and those with STEM programs.
Some 2,700 will be allocated exclusively for science students, while up to 6,000 will be available for non-science subjects.
Study Korea 300K project, as it’s been named, will also see the Study in Korea – or GKS – country quotas increase for India, the US, Pakistan, Poland and the UAE.
The government will also establish international student service centres at overseas education centres to encourage Korean study, but did not mention where there would be located.
A current restriction that more than 30% of first year international students must have the TOPIK (test of proficiency in Korean) levels two or three is under “consideration to be lifted”, it added. This has however not been assigned a timeline but the exam itself will also become available online.
Benjamin A. Engel, who works as a professor at the institute of international affairs at Seoul National University, commented on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that only 13% of courses were in English in South Korean institutions in 2022.
“If Korea wants more international students, it needs more courses taught in English,” Engel insisted.
“Korea has a great education system… but forcing people to learn Korean to get an education here is not going to boost numbers. Making Korean universities more accessible by having more courses taught in English will,” he noted.
He agreed with Engel’s assessment that there is a need for more English-taught degrees, as well as an improved quality of research and the need to hire more non-Korean faculty.
Lee said that a new scheme as part of the plan would attempt to establish a new fast-track visa system for science and tech graduates.
“Now is the time to attract foreign talent strategically”
The minister also detailed that students with a master’s or PhD in science and technology will be able to apply for Korean citizenship and receive permanent resident status after three years in-country, halving the previous amount of time.
“We are in desperate need of nurturing [science] talent at a time when the war for technological supremacy is intensifying.
“Japan, for example, has set a target of attracting 400,000 foreign students by 2033. Now is the time to attract foreign talent strategically,” Lee told the media at the press conference in Seoul.
The recent governmental trilateral plan discussed between Korea, the US and Japan also surfaced in the press conference.
Lee said such cooperation as an example could “pave the way for more diverse youth exchanges and study abroad programs that could improve students’ intellectuality”.
Another strand looking to strengthen the attractiveness of non-urban areas will see the government “collaborate with administrations” in regions. Certain zones will be named “Global talent focused Special Zones for the Internationalisation of Education”.
On top of the scholarship plans, $60.4m is being allocated to help universities with graduate school “support projects” to improve academic climate and “capacity to respond to societal change”. The exact meaning of this was not expanded upon, but the projects generally aim to enhance international student experiences on campus.
It comes after some facets of the plan were released in July and was originally thought to have been dubbed Study Korea 3.0.
It included new increased work hours for foreign students, with the plan reportedly delayed details were finalised.