Go to contents

Seoul Nat’l Univ. President

Posted July. 16, 2010 14:09,   


Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-yeon explained his conglomerate’s global vision at recruitment sessions for ethnic Korean students at prestigious U.S. universities such as Harvard, Yale, MIT and Stanford in spring this year to urge them to enter Hanwha. CEOs of other large Korean groups including Samsung, LG, and Hyundai-Kia also go overseas to attract foreign talent. Seoul National University is the best institution of higher learning in Korea but rated lower than the University of Tokyo, National University of Singapore and Peking University in the global human resources market.

If people saw the election for Seoul National’s president in early May, they would wonder how it can produce global talent. All three candidates put forth a vision of turning the school into a “leading university in the world,” but populist pledges earned votes. Professor Oh Yeon-cheon, one of the candidates, stressed the importance of finance, saying, “The practical ability to deal with problems is more important than principles.” Many professors reportedly welcomed Oh’s pledge to raise the average annual salary by 30 million won (25,000 U.S. dollars). This pledge might not have gotten him elected, but some say that in a situation where Seoul National`s professors, supposedly the country’s top intellectuals, surrender to populism, nobody can blame ordinary voters for being swayed by populist pledges.

The competiveness of American universities is a big reason for the U.S. remaining atop the world for a considerable period despite the economic downturn. In an age when knowledge creates wealth, universities drive a country’s competiveness. To befit its economic status, Korea should produce at least two or three world-class universities. If a pending bill for the incorporation of Seoul National passes parliament, the university’s new president will assume heavy responsibility since he or she will exercise unprecedented power over the school’s budget and personnel management. Since the incorporation’s purpose is to enhance competitiveness, the president is expected to clash with professors.

Oh will be inaugurated as the 25th president of Seoul National August 2. “I will use all my strength to help the university enter a mature stage of quality development from quantitative growth,” he said. With Korea at the threshold of becoming an advanced country, his mission is to turn the school into a world-class university. The election process, however, has raised doubts over if he can meet expectations. Oh must bear in mind that reforming the university, which is run by tax money, is not only in the interest of the university staff and students but also in the interest of the country.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)