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Seoul eyes ‘all-foreign’ college majors

The Education Ministry is pushing to allow universities and colleges to create departments or majors consisting of only foreign students, officials said Tuesday, as part of its plan to attract 200,000 students from outside South Korea by 2023.

Creation of specialized departments in fields such as shipping, automobile and information technology-related majors -- in which Korea shows high competency -- will be supported by the ministry.

The ministry is seeking to revise the higher education law related to creation and support of such departments, including a financial incentive given to universities operating such majors.

But ministry officials declined to comment on the approximate size of the subsidy, saying that they are still negotiating with the Finance Ministry on the budget. The specifics for the government plan will be finalized by September.

The Korean government will also provide ways for students already in Korea for language courses to be able to transfer to degree programs.

In addition, Korean schools outside of the country will now admit foreign students -- up to 30 percent of their quota -- so that the foreign students can become more interested in pursuing higher education in Korea, the ministry said.

More state-run foreign student service centers will be set up to support foreign students’ stays, while “integrated dormitories,” where students of various colleges and universities in a certain region can stay and form a community, will be built.

Via these measures, the ministry is planning to increase the percentage of foreigners among students in higher education to 5 percent by 2023, up from 2 percent in 2014.

According to the ministry, the number of students around the globe studying abroad reached 4.5 million in 2012, jumping more than fivefold from 800,000 in 1975.

But the figure of students coming to Korea has slowly declined since 2011, when it peaked at 89,537. There were 84,891 foreign students in Korea last year, dropping from 85,923 in 2013.

“Countries across the world are engaged in efforts to host foreign students to expand their higher education industry and bring talent from outside their borders. In light of the decreasing number of students and productive population, we need to follow suit,” the ministry said.

With the student population in Korea continuing to drop, the government has estimated the number of openings for college freshmen is expected to surpass that of high school graduates by 2018, meaning several higher education institutions will be unable to fill their classrooms.

Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea has repeatedly stressed that hosting more foreign students is the key to overcoming a shortage of students. 

By Yoon Min-sik (