Often referred to as an “educational powerhouse,” Korea places a distinct value on education linked to early recognition of its importance in economic mobility and development throughout Korea’s history, and particularly its history since the Korean War in the early 1950s. As with the rest of the country, Korea’s higher education system has seen rapid growth since the end of the Korean War. Today, Korea boasts over 400 higher education institutions, primarily categorized as junior/community colleges (2-3 years), universities (4 years), and graduate schools.
A high percentage of Korean professors have earned PhDs from U.S. institutions, with over half of all professors on a nationwide basis, and an even higher percentage of professors at top universities, holding U.S. degrees. Relatedly, course offerings in English have also increased, with around 30% of courses at Korean colleges and universities now taught in English. Some colleges and universities may also include departments or programs in which all courses are taught in English, as is the case with Yonsei University’s Underwood International College and Graduate School of International Studies. In keeping with globalization and Korea’s current status as an advanced economy, such programs have ambitious international goals. (For more information on higher education in Korea, visit the Korean Ministry of Education's Study in Korea website.)
With the spread in popularity of Korean culture, language, and arts worldwide, popularly known as the “Hallyu Wave,” Korean higher education institutions have seen an increase in the number of international students choosing to pursue advanced study in Korea. According to the 2019 Open Doors report, published by the Institute for International Education (IIE), during the 2017-2018 academic year, South Korea ranked 20th among the top 25 destinations of U.S. study abroad students. The U.S. also remains a popular study abroad destination of Korean students, with Korea consistently ranking as the third-largest origin of international students after China and India (a fact particularly significant considering the difference in population size between Korea and these two countries). Thus, the Korean higher education system is uniquely placed to influence the future of international education, while fostering educational and cultural exchange between the United States and Korea.