American Universities Seek to Expand Their Presence in South Korea

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by John Kim
Some Korean students are already enjoying the convenience of earning a degree from an American university, while remaining closer to home. Image: SUNY Korea.

South Korea has long been one of the leading countries of origin of international students in the US, ranking behind only China and India. In fact, the high rate of Koreans coming to the US to earn a degree from an American university has led to more Korean students in the US than any other country, when compared to their home country population. But earning an American diploma is now becoming much easier for citizens of South Korea.

Recently, several US universities have announced plans to establish degree programs at the Songdo Global University (SGU) Campus in Incheon, South Korea. The SGU is a consortium of education and research institutions, aspiring to be an Asian academic hub of and a gateway between East and West.  SUNY Korea opened its doors in 2012, with about 1,100 undergraduate and 400 graduate students. It was the first American university established in South Korea and it was also the first institution to occupy the SGU Campus. The other schools slated to join are George Mason University, the University of Utah and Ghent University of Belgium. A big advantage for the students is that the cost of attending is expected to be much lower than if they enrolled at the main campuses in the US, while the diplomas will be identical.  

The SGU is not exclusively for Korean students either. It is expected that more than 50% of the student body will be international students — Western students who want to explore Asia or students from other Asian countries who want a Western education closer to home. The students will benefit from the global network of SGU’s schools and research institutions. Students who want to study at their school’s main US campus will be able to do so through study abroad programs, though other global destinations will also be available. Various financial assistance opportunities are also expected from both the public and private sectors.

It is not the first time American universities established satellite campuses in Asia. A handful of US universities already have branches in Singapore, China, India and others. Among these, the SGU project stands out because it incorporates several universities as well as research institutions in one convenient location. The scene is similar to Qatar’s Education City where numerous American universities are located in a single town, while the administration is kept separate for each institution. The SGU project is a cornerstone of the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) scheme — a key part of South Korea’s efforts to stay competitive regionally and globally.

Hyung Ki (John) Kim is a research intern at East-West Center in Washington.