Provincial Universities Rely Heavily on Foreign Students

      May 02, 2023 12:27

      Private universities in the provinces are becoming increasingly dependent on foreign students as the population shrinks and young Koreans stare fixedly at the capital. 
      Some provincial universities have a foreign enrollment of 99 percent, and the situation is likely to get worse now the Education Ministry wants to boost the enrollment quota of universities by 1,829 in 2024.
      The ministry says the increase is necessary to recruit more students to high-tech disciplines, but critics say it should focus more on closing down money-losing degree mills outside Seoul that have no appeal for Koreans at all.
      One official in charge of student exchange programs at a private provincial university said, "Intensifying competition between universities recently led to some schools offering brokers as much as a semester's tuition fees per student to recruit new foreign students." 
      Many are recruiting foreign students in their home countries. One private university signed an agreement with a high school in China to teach seniors Korean for six months to help them apply for the university and prepare to academic life here.  
      International students play cricket at a university in Sokcho, Gangwon Province on April 24.
      But Chinese students no longer make up the majority as their standards rise. According to the Justice Ministry, Vietnamese account for 73,800 of the 214,000 foreign students studying in Korean universities as of March, followed by 67,451 Chinese, 12,251 Uzbeks citizens and 12,226 Mongolians.
      In 2018, before the pandemic, Chinese accounted for 68,900 out of 160,000 foreign students, followed by 45,100 Vietnamese.
      One staffer at a private university said, "As living standards rose in China, more and more students want to go to higher-ranking universities in Seoul, so private provincial universities are recruiting students from Vietnam and Uzbekistan." 
      Critics say that is keeping substandard degree mills artificially alive, and many places are just a front allowing foreigners to come here on a student visa and vanish into the gray economy. 
      Some universities admit they have a problem. One staffer at a private university in North Gyeongsang Province said, "We have problems weeding out foreigners who obtain student visas just to enter Korea to find jobs." 
      According to Justice Ministry data, the proportion of foreigners entering Korea on D-2 student visas who end up becoming illegal immigrants rose from 1,400 people or 1.3 percent in 2018 to 9,800 or 7.1 percent late last year. 
      But the Education Ministry says foreign students are needed to fill jobs Koreans are reluctant to do, such as carers. For instance, provincial universities could make themselves useful by setting up departments that teach the necessary skills to foreign students along with Korean language training, and ultimately help them find jobs in nursing homes and other institutions for the elderly here. 
      The government is looking into providing special visas. Yoon So-young at the ministry said, "If foreign students who graduate from provincial universities end up filling the shortage of workers there, they will end up helping both the regions and the universities." 
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