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English as an Official Language

Posted February. 12, 2010 08:44,   


Pohang University of Science and Technology, also called Postech, will make English an official language of the school from this year. Postech President Baik Sung-gi said, “All lectures, meetings and documents will be taught, conducted and processed in English within three years.” All lectures at the university’s colleges and graduate schools will be made in English. Professors’ meetings will be conducted in English. Those of departments and faculty will use English only when attended by foreign professors to provide a favorable environment for foreign professors and students.

Postech aims to join the ranks of the world’s top 20 universities. To achieve this goal, it will increase the number of foreign professors from 31, or 7.2 percent of its 433 professors, to 111, or 25.6 percent, over the next three years. The share of foreign graduate school students will rise from 2.2 percent to 10 percent over the same period. To become a world-class university, the number of excellent papers and the level of student scholastic ability should also be world-class. In doing so, Postech said attracting world-renowned scholars and talented students is urgently needed and making English as an official language is inevitable.

Robert Ian McKay, the first foreign professor of Seoul National University’s engineering department, presented a report on measures to attract outstanding foreign professors in 2007 based on his two years at the university. He said, “I had difficulty understanding official documents because they were all written in Korean.” This is why the efforts of many Korean universities to attract world-renowned scholars as professors have bore little fruit. A foreign professor at Seoul National University reportedly quit a month after he arrived in Korea due to failure to adapt to his new environment.

Making English an official language of a Korean university was considered a farfetched idea a decade ago. After the Asian financial crisis in 1997, however, the idea began catching on. In 2005, the government announced that it will make English an official language and run English immersion education on a trial basis in free economic zones such as Incheon and Jeju Island. The grand plan needs time to produce meaningful results, however. LG Electronics is getting what it wanted after beginning a campaign to use English in 2008. Turning universities and companies into English-language zones instead of Incheon or Jeju is more practical.

Editorial Writer Park Yeong-kyun (parkyk@donga.com)