Rise in Number of Illegal International Students within Universities

Apr 30, 2019

South Korean Government is surprised at the number of illegal international students from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies that represents South Korea’s foreign language education. Although Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and Ministry of Education (ME) are hurriedly making necessary measures, ME is worried that this situation is only the start of worse things to come.
For the past ten years, international students have been an alternative to survival of universities that are seeing reduction in the number of students. Increase in number of illegal international students is the result of universities that have been trying to overcome their financial affairs due to frozen tuition and reduction in the number of students and South Korean Government that has been supporting universities that are in financial difficulties. Universities have lured international students while South Korean Government has overlooked such issue through ‘supernumerary’ regulation and certification system. This issue has become noticeable amongst students learning Korean un language schools. South Korean Government and universities must now focus on attracting international students to develop competitiveness in education and international competitive edge.
◊Expected side-effect
Reduction in the number of students started in 1990s. While 47,000 people were subtracted from the first structure reform evaluation, speed of a decline in population was too much. Due to faster speed in decline, it is estimated that sum of graduates and repeaters will be less than the maximum number of people. Number of high school students in 2019 is 1,538,576, which is 131,123 people (7.9%) less than that of 2018.
Based on the maximum number of people, about 38 universities out of 330 universities are in a situation where they have to shut down. It is estimated that there will be less than 400,000 enrollees in 2023. Due to students flocking to universities in metropolitan cities, universities in rural areas are not able to maintain themselves without international students. Basic operating expenses including personnel expenses correspond to 60 to 70% of universities’ incomes from tuitions. Reduction in amount of tuitions means closure of an university.
Even in this dire situation, tuition has been frozen for the past ten years. Universities have focused on attracting international students to secure profits for basic operation. To supplement number of students and to display international capabilities, they brought international students blindly even by giving them scholarships. Spread of the South Korean wave in developing countries and China and increase in demands for higher education have played roles in attracting international students.
According to Higher Education in KOREA, there were 100,936 international students who are attending South Korean universities in 2018. Out of the students, 52,392 students took degree courses and 35,436 students were studying Korean. A fair number of students taking degree courses and students learning Korean were ‘supernumerary’ students. This indicates that universities were focuses on attracting international students without thinking about the maximum number of students. It is hardly possible to manage these international students, who were brought in without any limitation to better financial states of universities.

Rise in Number of Illegal International Students within Universities

◊South Korean Government’s policies go back and forth
Ministry of Education and Science Technology (MEST) established ‘advance plans for attracting and managing international students’ in 2011 while thinking that there might be a possibility that some universities would look to attract international students to supplement their financial affairs. Certification system was also introduced at this time for quality management.
MEST had continued to lay out policies to increase number of international students. Minister Lee Joo-ho of MEST attended a festival for international students at that time to explain policies on international students to Chinese international students and stated his intention to attract more international students and to provide more support.
Many media and ME at that time expressed their concerns about illegal residents. MEST prioritized attracting international students while predicting possible side-effects at the same time and it wanted to give a break to universities that were going through financial difficulties due to tuition.
Problem was that MEST focused too much on attracting international students which practically blocked universities from going overseas. Universities were finally able to go overseas in 2018 by exporting curriculums and without establishing branches or campuses overseas.
“We were blocked off by regulations when there were demands and now countries such as China that used to import our curriculum are developing their own curriculums.” said a representative for an university that has exported its curriculums. “As a result, we are solely focusing on attracting international students.”
Because universities were so focused on attracting international students, there was a phenomenon where students were staying in certain areas. When number of Chinese international students started to drop due to THAAD (Thermal High Altitude Area Defense) and Vietnamese economy started to grow, universities had turned their eyes to Vietnam. Universities had carried out events where they would hold briefing sessions and tried to attract hundreds of students at once. Shocking survey that showed that 7 students out of 10 Vietnamese international students studying Korean in South Korean universities are illegal residents is the result of such activity. According to MOJ, number of illegal international students increased rapidly from 5,879 in 2015 to 13,945 in 2018.
◊Universities should focus on ‘quality’ rather than ‘quantity’
MOJ and ME put out illegal residency preventive measures that focus on increasing limits to financial guarantee and improving standard of Korean. On the other hand, experts in education industry believe that South Korean Government needs to prepare a system that brings in students with higher competitive edge.
Universities cannot manage and observe academic affairs of every student to prevent illegal residents. Rather, they need to focus on attracting students who can help South Korean economy and do not cause any issue while staying in South Korea.
Experts point out that universities should especially focus on bringing in students who want to take courses for a master’s degree or a doctor’s degree at natural sciences or engineering graduate school. They also state that universities should look to attract students from Europe and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries rather than particular countries such as China and Vietnam.
“To increase national competitive edge, South Korean Government should pay out policies that will attract international students who want to attend graduate schools rather than language schools.” said a personnel from education industry. “It is also necessary for universities to expand international exchange through stable paths such as exchange with foreign universities.”
Staff Reporter Mun, Bokyung | okmun@etnews.com & Staff Reporter Jeon, Jiyeon | now21@etnews.com

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