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Healthy Pressure for Professors

Posted March. 08, 2010 09:45,   


National Taiwan University President Si-chen Lee recently told reporters that he turned to professors to make his school world-class, adding, “A university that does not stress its professors will not develop. Fierce competition among professors is the only way for a university to survive.” He stressed the importance of professors leading the way in boosting a college’s competitiveness. Korean universities should pay heed to this comment.

Korean graduate schools lag behind in global competitiveness. The Korean government began the BK21 project in 1999 to create research-centered universities. To raise the competitiveness of universities, the project prioritized fostering graduate schools. Few universities, however, hire professors with doctorates from domestic schools, meaning Korean universities do not trust homegrown earners of advanced degrees. Kwon Cheol-shin, a former systems management engineering professor at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, is well known for having stayed in his lab for more than 24 years to study. “To nurture talented students, professors have to set an example by devoting themselves to their studies,” he said. “Korean professors, however, prioritize sending students abroad for study. This is why Korea has yet to establish research-centered universities.”

Korea ranks first in several fields worldwide such as shipbuilding and semiconductors, but few foreigners come to Korea to study such fields. In the world university rankings compiled by The Times of London last year, Seoul National University ranked 47th. Korean graduate schools, however, have no distinct strengths. If things stay the same, world-class Korean companies will have no researchers from domestic graduate schools. The development of companies is not equal to the development of universities since companies can draw talented workers from other countries.

National University of Singapore raised its rank to 30th in The Times annual rankings by creating an atmosphere under which professors must study hard. Professors at National Taiwan University have been fully devoted to studies, producing a Nobel laureate in chemistry in 1986. Universities should survive by fulfilling their roles of studying and doing research. If professors feel at ease and grow complacent, a university fails. By contrast, a country prospers when universities and professors do their upmost to fulfill their duties. Competition is getting fiercer among professors, but this is no guarantee of the competitiveness of Korean universities. Only when more Korean professors strive to nurture talented students at home will Korean universities make a leap forward.

Editorial Writer Lee Jeong-hoon (hoon@donga.com)