SEOUL, KOREA – South Korea has one of the world’s highest college enrollment rates, and the government is sparing no effort to back universities as they work to foster talents for industry. Ironically, the country is still grappling with the surprisingly high youth unemployment rate of 7.5% (nearly three times higher than the total unemployment rate of 2.9%). Many companies shun the notion of hiring new recruits on the ground of saving time and expenses for training amidst this economic downturn, leading to an increasing social concern. Against this backdrop, some universities have made a breakthrough by developing an innovative education model to meet the needs of industries. Korea Polytechnic University (KPU) is a good example. KPU, ranked as the top university in graduate employment rate three years in a row, is boasting its unique academic-industry cooperation model that focuses on producing business-friendly talents who do not need retraining in the industry.
Korea Polytechnic University (KPU)
KPU was set up within the national industry complex in 1997, and funded by the former Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. KPU was aimed to benchmark Kista Science City in Sweden, Northern Europe’s largest industrial cluster, and Oulu Technopolis in Finland. Since then, the school has grown to become a role model university for its successful industry-university partnership programs. On account of its strict academic management system, students are not allowed to graduate without attaining work experiences in the field. For this, “The school is implementing its curriculum on the basis of business demand and integrating diverse industry-university cooperation programs into its curriculum. When hiring professors, candidates who have industrial background are given preference. Now, around 90% of our faculty members are outstanding experts in various fields”, said Choi Jun-yeong, the president of Korea Polytechnic University.
A family company system
Korea Polytechnic University uniquely devised “a family company system”, an industry-academic cooperation model that represents the first of its kind in Korea. With a network of 3,900 family companies, KPU is building a close relationship with them by exchanging technologies, conducting joint research, and sharing lab equipment. The goal of this collaborative network is to provide KPU’s students with access to more opportunities for practical training with companies. Dr. Choi continued that, “KPU’s professors have also largely contributed to gaining trust from family companies. Whenever companies have difficulties to resolve or need technical advice, professors spare no efforts to provide assistance through its one-on-one system. As a result, students naturally have more opportunities to gain work experience at these companies and subsequently find jobs after graduation.” In turn, many of the companies are grateful to the school, and have shown their appreciation in the form of donations towards scholarships amounting to nearly KRW 1.7 billion (USD 1.6 million) over the last two years. As the success of this education system became known to other educational organizations, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology requested that KPU to produce the manual brochures documenting the expertise of family companies and also to distribute them to other universities nationwide.
Engineering House (EH)
KPU’s other representative education model is the Engineering House (EH). The EH is an integrated industry-university education system, which has recently been placed in the limelight. This education model was developed to resolve the discrepancy between education and industries in Korea, as education has a reputation of not meeting the demands from companies. Professors, business researchers, and students coexist at the Engineering Houses located within the university with the object of simultaneously achieving technology development, training, and a supply of technical talents. In the process of developing new products among professors and company engineers, senior students participate in various projects to experience industry both directly and indirectly. These projects also allow the students to attain advanced learning applications of their major. At present, 152 companies, 88 professors, and 374 students are involved in 41 Engineering Houses. The EH model was introduced to diverse universities including Korean-German Institute of Technology.
KPU’s successful education model is also widely known outside the country. “We set ‘Global KPU’ as our vision for the year 2020, and are pursuing a variety of global programs in the areas of education and industry-university cooperation,” Dr. Choi emphasized. In collaboration with the Algerian government, which mapped out strategies to boost its industries by benchmarking KPU’s education system and industry-academic model, the university helped open the ICT education center (CATICTA) in Algeria in 2011. After the success with Algeria, the demand for importing the education system from other countries has been surging, particularly in the South America and Central Asia regions. To date, as many as 100 government officials from 14 different countries including Paraguay, Honduras, Guatemala, and Afghanistan have visited the university to participate in its education programs. Over a certain period, they were trained to gain specialized knowledge on e-government, e-trade, G-B (Government to Business), and e-Business for application in their ICT policy making.
Special training courses for Saudi Arabia and Vietnam
In collaboration with a vocational training center (TVTV), an affiliated organization of the Ministry of Higher Education in Saudi Arabia, KPU is running a special training course to foster teaching professionals under the agreement of connected education. KPU was selected as an engineering university (a four-year course) where Saudi Arabian students who graduated from a two-year course college can transfer to and earn a bachelor’s degree. The joint agreement followed visits from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP) to KPU. Having selected 30 scholarship students, the university has provided a curriculum of three-year courses (one year for Korean language and two years for regular class). KPU is also offering specialized education in cooperation with the Vietnam government in a bid to train technical professionals. Following the visits of the minister and the vice-minister of Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, as well as several working-level meetings with government officials in 2011, KPU opened a training course for Vietnamese students. Having attracted 30 scholarship students in 2012, the university now offers an education program for a total of five years (one year for Korean language and four years for regular class) centering on mechanical engineering and electronic engineering, both of which are advanced technologies in high demand in Vietnam.
Techno Innovation Park (TIP)
For the convenience of international students, KPU is providing accommodation for them in its Techno Innovation Park (TIP) building. There, students can conveniently attain all-in-one-services ranging from education to personal life to R&D. This building provides diverse amenities including a Korean language center, dormitories for foreign students, chapels, art centers, and leisure facilities. In a bid to strengthen the academic competitiveness of foreign students, KPU encourages and supports these students to participate in outside competitions and contests. The school’s tutoring services in support of international students helps them improve their learning abilities in major courses.
“By attracting more international students as well as sending our students overseas, we are aiming to increase the frequency of global education exchanges, and are also hoping to pass on KPU’s unique academic-industry partnership model worldwide,” Dr. Choi said.