South Korean universities, which are worried about their futures due to dropping birthrates, are studying ways to make inroads abroad, local school sources said Monday.
Ewha Womans University in Seoul recently disclosed its plan to branch out into the United States and China.
National universities not in Seoul, which are dealing with an ever-falling number of entrants, are also showing deep interest in setting up schools in foreign countries.
According to the Education Ministry, the number of high school seniors who want to enter college next year is estimated at 520,000, just 10,000 more than the entrance quota of 510,000 for all 386 universities and colleges nationwide.
The problem is that the quota would have been far higher if not for the government's restructuring steps.
Due to the nation's low birthrate, which was around 1.24 as of 2011, the number of students who will take college entrance tests is forecast to plummet to 470,000 in 2020, 430,000 in 2021, 410,000 in 2022 and 400,000 in 2023, according to the ministry's data.
The estimate means that colleges will need to slash their current quotas by up to 110,000 overall over the next seven years.
The ministry has already prepared to adjust the quota in stages based on the 2023 estimation. The ministry is also moving to introduce a massive restructuring program under which poorly performing colleges can be shut down.
Under these harsh realities, survival has become a major issue in academic circles.
Chungbuk National University in Cheonju, 137 kilometers south of Seoul, has recently attracted attention as a private education foundation in China's northern Shanxi province, which offered last month to set up a sister campus in the province's capital of Xian.
The foundation also requested that the South Korean school run the campus.
In addition, the foundation promised to build the campus and dormitories, and even recruit students.
Early last month, the university also received a request to join a new international campus in the Chinese border town of Hunchun associated with Yanbian University, located in the Chinese province of Jilin. The Chinese university plans to complete the Hunchun campus by September 2017.
In April, the private Mongolian International University also asked the Chungbuk university to jointly launch a branch school in Kazakhstan.
This is not the first time that South Korean colleges have tried to make inroads into foreign countries.
In fact, Chungnam National University in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul, sought to set up a campus in Los Angeles in 2008 but had to call off the project two years later because of a domestic law banning such a step.
But private universities will be allowed to set up campuses abroad starting next month as the related law was amended.
The deregulation has led to private schools, including Ewha, actively studying ways to expand into foreign nations of late. The law still prevents national universities from doing so.
"Given the rapid decrease in the number of future entrants, national universities' overseas advances need to be studied," an official at a national faculty said, asking not to be named. (Yonhap)