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[Opinion] 100,000 Koreans Studying in the U.S.

Posted April. 06, 2007 08:01,   


The Bank of Korea (BOK) said that last year, Korean students spent $4.45 billion while studying abroad, a more than four-fold increase compared with $1.07 billion in 2001. It is an astronomical amount indeed, but it is estimated that the actual money spent is 3 times as much as what the BOK said. What was included in the statistics is the amount of money remitted to students’ bank accounts only. When all the expenses are included in the statistics, the figure jumps to over 13 trillion won.

The number of Koreans studying in the U.S is around 100,000, the largest number among all the rest of the countries in the world. Only a couple of years ago, China and India were in first and second place, followed by Korea. Now Korea sends more students than countries whose populations are over 20 times larger. Is this good or bad? Is this because of pure education zeal or are we just jumping on the bandwagon?

The number of students is the largest not only in the U.S but in China, where 54,000 (or 38% of the entire international students there) Korean students are living. In Canada, there are 28,000 of them. At the end of the day, it is safe to say that the Korean passion for study is the strongest in the world. Because the sum of individual citizens’ capability and capacity translates into national competitiveness, this phenomenon should bode well for Korea. However, if we see the phenomenon from a slightly different perspective, it is rather worrisome. In many cases, students are going abroad to study because education in Korea is not satisfactory and not up to its economic performance, the 11th largest economy in the world. The opening of the education market, which could stimulate the domestic education sector, should have been included in the FTA talks with the U.S.

Studying abroad is a double-edged sword as it expands education opportunity while at the same time coming with the risk of brain drain. It is a double whammy for Korea when talented students, who spend a lot of hard-earned dollars overseas choose to work overseas instead of coming back to Korea. According to 1999 to 2005 statistics, of the 184 Korean students, who went to foreign countries on a national scholarship program in the fields of information and communications, only 30% chose to come back after receiving their degrees. Patriotism alone can’t bring students back home. Only when Korea can convince them that they can live their dream in Korea will they turn down job offers from leading companies in advanced countries and come home.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com