Sungkyunkwan rises in business, high tech fields

2012-09-04 20:34

 Reforms, international programs drive success of Korea’s oldest school

Archaic buildings and tranquil gardens greet visitors to Sungkyunkwan University to the side of the entrance.

Founded in 1398, it was the place of study and repose for king’s scholars of Joseon Dynasty. Confucianism is still the guiding principle of the longest-running higher education institute in Korea nestled beside a royal court of the medieval dynasty in central Seoul.

Surviving over 600 years of checkered history including royal coups, wars, colonial rule and modernization, Sungkyunkwan is still one of the nation’s most respected universities. Yet its prestige lies not in traditional subjects but in global business, cutting-edge technology fields and international exchange programs.

Its MBA program and medical school are rated among the most successful in the nation. It runs a highly reputed semiconductor engineering department that has supplied talents to the nation’s key growth industry.

The school is also one of the most active promoters of educational globalization.
Kim Jun-young, president of Sungkyunkwan University. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

“Globalization has been our main priority over the past years,” Kim Jun-young, the president of Sungkyunkwan University, said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

Since he was inaugurated in early 2011, Kim has been working hard to extend networks with foreign universities around the world.

SKKU is currently in partnerships with over 700 universities in more than 70 countries across the globe, and runs overseas study programs at 105 universities in 23 countries.

The university has also signed with a total of 18 overseas institutions, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Indiana University in the U.S. and Peking University of China to provide a “dual-degree” program.

“We require students to go abroad and study at least one semester with our partner universities during their degree. We believe the experience is vital to enhancing our students’ understanding of global society,” Kim said.

“To build global competiveness, we not only have to send our students abroad but also invite more foreign students and faculty members from abroad.”

Global partnership is a part of his long-term plan to make SKKU a global leading university by 2020.

Last year the economics professor announced the “Vision 2020,” which aims to make SKKU one of the top 50 institutions in the world with its academic programs in at least 10 fields, such as Global Business Administration and Semiconductor System Engineering, ranking within the top 10 by that year.

In less than a year, the president has already seen rapid progress toward that goal. Sungkyunkwan University’s Graduate School of Business, which was established in 2004 as the first international MBA program in Korea, ranked 66th on the Financial Times’ top 100 full-time global MBA rankings this year, the highest rank a Korean university has ever registered since full-time MBA programs were launched in the country.

SKKU GSB scored high in the international experience rank which measures international exposure during the MBA program, where it ranked 11th, ahead of some top-ranking U.S. universities such as Stanford, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

It also scored high overall points for operating annual exchange programs with the world’s top business schools such as MIT Sloan School of Management, Kim said.

He noted that SKKU is also becoming a hot destination for foreign students thanks to its increasing effort to attract more international students to its summer education programs.

SKKU began the International Summer Semester, a four-week summer school for international students, in 2008 with just over 300 international students. In its fifth year, the number climbed to a total of 1,431 students from 35 countries this summer.

The key to the success of its summer program, Kim said, is the outstanding professors and high-quality education content.

The faculty of the SKKU summer semester includes world-renowned professors such as Charles Hampden-Turner from the University of Cambridge.

Because of its long history, people may think Sungkyunkwan prefers tradition over change. But in fact, Kim said, SKKU has been a pioneer in breaking traditions and introducing new ideas in Korean higher education.

SKKU first introduced a “dual-campus” system in Korea by separating Humanities and Social Sciences from Natural Sciences on a different campus.

He said the idea of the dual campus was revolutionary in Korean higher education; as most other universities located in Seoul have tried to meet the need for expansion by setting up a separate branch, usually smaller in size in other cities.

But SKKU built the Natural Sciences campus in 1978 in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul in Gyeonggi Province, to build a bridge between academia and the industrial sector in the region.

The academic and industrial cooperation to train students to meet the needs of business began to speed up as Samsung Group, the leading conglomerate in Korea, acquired the foundation of SKKU in 1996.

Samsung now supports SKKU with more than 100 billion won of funding each year, and the two currently carry out more than 200 joint research projects.

Samsung also helped open new joint courses such as Mobile System Engineering and Semiconductor System Engineering with SKKU, offering full scholarships upon admission and opportunities for graduates to work at its companies.

“Those customized courses are designed to meet the needs not only from business but from society and the courses are only provided at SKKU,” Kim said.

He added that the reputation of SKKU has skyrocketed as it increased the number of thesis in Science Citation Index from 92 in 1996 to a striking 3,275 in 2011, resulting in putting its name at the top in university evaluations by Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, in terms of the size and number of research projects.

And despite the shrinking job market, SKKU’s graduate employment rate has continued to rise, and last year its graduate employment rate stood at 68.9 percent, the highest rate among four-year colleges across the country.

“Now the goal of making SKKU one of the top 50 universities in the world is well underway,” Kim said.

Kim is well known for his hard work. He has served more than 20 years at SKKU since his appointment as a professor in 1989.

Kim, 61, is one of the leading macroeconomists in Korea. His lectures are still among the most popular classes at the university, and his book on macroeconomics is considered the Bible by those who study the subject in Korea.

He said he made a commitment to continue his class when he took the helm of Sungkyunkwan University.

It’s not very common in Korea that a university president regularly lectures students, but Kim still sits down in a lecture hall every week for his macroeconomics class.

“It is my belief that one of the most important duties of our profession is teaching students, and it also helps me understand and communicate with our students,” Kim said.

Kim said that he has an ambitious mission to lead Sungkyunkwan University in establishing its name worldwide and making it one of the leading institutions in the world.

“SKKU has expanded and developed rapidly over the past decade, and now we are focusing on developing software power to build our global competiveness,” he added.

By Oh Kyu-wook (

Kim Jun-young

● Kim was named president of SKKU in January 2011. He has worked as a professor at the School of Economics since 1989. He also served as dean of the school from 1996-1998.

● Kim graduated from SKKU with a bachelor’s degree in Economics in 1975 and earned his doctoral degree in the same field at the University of Minnesota in 1984.

● Kim is a leading macroeconomist in Korea. His book on macroeconomics is considered one of the most important economics texts in Korea.
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