Although there are 60,000 foreign students in Korea, the ratio of them to their Korean university counterparts remains the lowest among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries.
According to the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, the number of foreigners studying in Korea is a mere 0.7 percent of the total number of university students here, well below figures in other countries, such as New Zealand (28.5 percent), Germany (11.4 percent), Japan (3.2 percent) and Spain (2.9 percent). The average figure for OECD countries is 9.6 percent. In Korea the foreign student population is unevenly distributed, with 93 percent being fellow Asians. European students comprise 2.4 percent, Africans 0.6 percent and Australian and New Zealanders 0.2 percent.
A recent announcement by the government -- that it would increase the number of foreign students to 100,000 by 2012 and diversify their nationalities -- came out of this situation. The government said it would focus on attracting students from Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, and increase the number of government scholarships from this year's 837 to 3,000 by 2012.
"These highly qualified students from all around the world will eventually become global leaders who will perhaps look favorably upon Korea," said Shin Kang-tak, Director of the Overseas Korean Education Division of the Education Ministry.
Ewha Womans University is running the Ewha Global Partnership Program, which offers educational scholarships to talented women from developing countries. Prof. Kym Hyo-keun, who heads the Office of Global Affairs at Ewha, said, "We started this program for future female leaders of developing countries out of gratitude for western missionaries who provided education to us some 120 years ago."
Some say the efforts of Korean universities will pay off later, as former students will become friends of Korea in global society.
Those who studied abroad on the U.S. Fulbright Program or British Chevening Scholarships returned to Korea and became leaders of our society. Likewise, foreign students currently studying in Korea will some day return to their respective countries and take influential posts. Prof. Choi In-ho at Yeungnam University said, "We should make concerted efforts to help foreign students studying in Korea on scholarships become leaders so that these Korean-friendly people can exert more influence in the international community."