Handong builds global education network

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Oct 2, 2012 - 20:32
  • Updated : Oct 2, 2012 - 20:32

President Kim Young-gil prioritizes honesty, integrity and teamwork skills for students

POHANG, North Gyeongsang Province ― Nestled in a remote rural town, Handong Global University gives no clue that it is one of Korea’s most advanced schools in terms of global education.

It’s a long walk though vast rice fields on the outskirts of Pohang to get to the campus which is dotted by a few small, low-rise buildings accommodating some 3,600 undergraduate students.

Yet the university is famed for its extensive joint projects with the United Nations, UNESCO and other international organizations. It also produces the largest number of international law experts in Korea.

“We nurture leaders through our whole-person education by combining character and academic training geared for the 21st century’s global demands,” Kim Young-gil, its president, said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

Kim Young-gil, president of Handong Global University. (HGU)

Since its opening in 1995, Handong Global University has been actively involved in various international initiatives and student exchanges programs with foreign schools in order to create a global educational environment, Kim said.

Through those efforts, the school was picked in 2007 by UNESCO to lead its University Twinning and Networking program. The aim of the network is the promotion of an integrated system of research, training, information and documentation activities in the field of sustainable development in developing countries, mainly in the Asian region, but also in African countries, Kim said.

More than 700 students from around the globe have received scholarships to study at the school, he added.

HGU also became a member of the United Nations Academic Impact that was launched by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2010 as part of efforts to engage educational institutions in solving common global problems, such as human rights, sustainability and global warming.

The Korean school was designated as one of 10 hub universities by UNAI for capacity building in higher education.

“Korea’s rapid economic growth would not have been possible without the help of the international community. I think it’s time for us to pass on our knowledge and expertise to help developing countries,” the president said.

Kim, 73, became the first president of Handong Global University in 1995, and is still actively working as one of the longest-serving university presidents in Korea.

Kim is also a well-known materials scientist, having worked at NASA Research Center on aerospace applications. He also worked as a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology from 1978 to 1995.

The former NASA materials scientist said he had a self-imposed mission when he decided to take the helm of the new university: to build a global university.

“In 1995, when HGU was planning to open the door, there were already a total of 159 universities in Korea. So I asked myself, ‘Why do we need another one?’” he recalled.

It was an epoch-making period: Commercial use of the World Wide Web began in 1994 and the World Trade Organization was established in 1995, he noted.

The answer, he believed, was that the country needed a new institution that would educate students with new curricula fit for the 21st century.

Kim added that universities are in dire need of a paradigm shift, needing a fresh approach to deal with the various global issues of today. But the term ‘global’ has been so overused in their guidebook that the meaning is often lost in the context.

“The true meaning of globalized education is not how many foreign students you have, but how to teach students to have a more global outlook,” said the outspoken president.

Today, a rounded “total education” with character development in a global perspective is becoming more important than ever, Kim claimed.

“Many schools here tend to focus solely on conveying knowledge, but neglecting character training.”

As a Christian-based university, character building has been the main emphasis for HGU. From its beginning, the school implemented unsupervised testing system in all departments for the first time in Korea.

“Education based on integrity is the pride of our university and it is a culture that our students and faculty members strive for,” Kim said.

The first thing that catches the eyes of visitors to the main building is the capital letter “I” written on the large wall.

“The bottom line indicates honesty and integrity that form the basis of our education, and the vertical column signifies knowledge. Lastly, the upper horizontal bar means globalization,” Kim explained.

HGU has a unique “team meeting” system in which one professor is assigned approximately 30 students each academic year to supervise them.

Through regular weekly team meetings and learning, plus spending time together with the team members, students can build a strong bond together with their peers, according to Kim.

Dormitory life is also an important part of “total education” at HGU. Currently, there are nine dormitory halls on the campus that accommodate some 80 percent of the total students.

“Living together as part of a community, students can develop a greater understanding, respect and appreciation of people from a variety of backgrounds, and can build strong teamwork skills and socializing skills,” the president said.

HGU is also well known for nurturing international legal experts. Established in 2002 with just 30 students, the Handong International Law School currently has 134 students, including 19 foreign students from 13 countries.

Lectures are all conducted in English under a curriculum associated with the American Bar Association and the students are allowed to take the bar exams without completing the courses in the United States.

So far 187 graduates, some 65 percent of 285 graduates from the school, have passed the American bar exam, according to the school.

Another unique aspect about Handong is that it allows students to enter the school without choosing their majors, and they can study all courses until they decide their subjects.

This benefits students by allowing them to find their real interest, and to avoid wasting time by changing their majors, Kim said.

He added that the university is planning to expand its global networking to achieve its goals as part of the UN’s initiative for higher education and networking.

But he said the university, with an enrollment of some 3,600 undergraduate students, has no plan to increase its student quota.

“I know the more students we have, the more financial income we get. But I want to keep it small; I think it best suits our global education policy,” he said.

Kim noted that he thinks the country still needs globally focused educational institutions to compete in the global market.

“I think we are becoming the one, becoming the hub of global education for Korea,” he added.

Kim Young-gil

● Kim became the inaugural president of Handong Global University in 1995. He served as a professor of materials science and engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology from 1978 to 1995.

● He worked in the United States in various roles, including at the NASA-Lewis Research Center on high-temperature alloys for aerospace applications.

● Kim graduated from Seoul National University in metallurgical engineering, and earned his master’s degree at the University of Missouri-Rolla. He earned his doctorate in materials science and engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

By Oh Kyu-wook (