Professor Sang-Kyun Cha, [Maeil Essays] For Korea’s universities to lead the world (Maeil Business Newspaper, 2022.12.25)

2022-12-25l Hit 35

Favorable Yoon’s education reforms

University reforms are the most urgent

The government-led education system needs to be changed

The education budget is ranked low among the OECD countries

There is a need to expand funds like top-ranking universities in the United States

During Christmas, as I was completing my Maeil Essays, which I started writing three years ago, I came across John’s verse, “the truth will set you free”. This phrase, which was adopted as mottos by many universities in the US as well as in Korea, resonates with me. During the past three years that I spent contemplating the development strategy of universities and our innovation ecosystem, I was made to believe that the purpose-wise value of verity and the tool-wise value of freedom are the unchanging, ultimate values in the world of innovation.

On the 15, President Suk-Yeol Yoon presided over the meeting that reviewed state affairs and promised that regardless of the popularity among the public, education reform will be carried out for the benefit of future generations, along with labor and pension reforms. It is a very welcome promise.

The world is being divided into two by the United States and China’s struggle for supremacy, which was sparked by the effort to solve humanity’s problems, such as climate change, digital transformation, and the pandemic, and the competition for cutting-edge technology such as semiconductors, which forms the basis for national security.

As for Korea, which is in the geopolitical zone where the two camps meet, the leaders have the responsibility of fostering several top-notch industries to not repeat the disgrace felt by Koreans at the end of the Joseon Dynasty.

For this national leap, I have been arguing that first of all, the government-led education system inherited from Japan should be reformed, and that the budget for higher education, which is among the lowest of the OECD countries, should be increased to match the level of the budget of the more developed countries.

Among the education reforms, university reform is the most urgent. It is very fortunate that Yoon’s administration has set a direction to free universities from the Ministry of Education and to increase the allocated funds.

However, the devil is in the details. It is unreasonable to expect that our universities, which have never escaped government control in admissions, academic affairs, and finances, will be voluntarily participating in destructive innovations by the internal politicized cartels that have dominated the university. Universities leading innovation around the world are private universities in the US, such as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, which have accumulated tens of trillions of won in development funds. Such universities make flexible and quick decision-making based on a governance structure where they are able to freely spend 5% of their private funds every year through advanced fund management that secures high return rates of 12% on average annually.

The National University of Singapore, the most innovative university in Asia, despite being a national university, has been supported by the government since the late 2000s and has accumulated 13 trillion won in development funds by following the development fund model of the private universities in the United States. The Korean government should not stop at increasing the university’s budget, which is expandable. Like in the case of the National University of Singapore, there should be a support for the accumulation of development funds and allow the universities to adjust quickly through the utilization of private capital. In addition, like private universities in the United States, the governance structure should be reformed so that external innovators can bring about substantial changes to the universities.

As the world changes, the subject of academic interest and methodology may change but the basic values of the leading universities, verity and freedom, do not change. Academic excellence and integrity cannot be compromised under any circumstances. Recently, when the issue of the research integrity of Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s thesis was raised both within the university and outside of the university, a former federal judge was appointed as the chairman of the investigation for transparency and objectivity. The president publicly expressed his will to diligently participate in the investigation. Academic excellence, as well as strict morality, are required in leaders of top-notch universities. Our universities would also require such transparency to lead the world.

Freedom that embraces diversity is the driving force behind disruptive innovation. Humanities, social sciences, and technology all allow this freedom to go on a path not taken by others. Silicon Valley, which leads the world in digital and biological technology innovation, and Boston’s Kendall Square were conceived by Stanford, MIT, and Harvard based on this freedom. I hope that the era of true verity and freedom will soon arrive at our university.

[Sang-Kyun Cha, Professor at the SNU Graduate School of Data Sciences]



Translated by: Do-Hyung Kim, English Editor of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering,