Foreign influx expected as education opens up

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 March, 1994, 12:00am

FOREIGN universities and language schools expect resistance as they move to secure a foothold in Korea's educational services market.

Korea, one of the last Asian countries to unlock its education sector, has agreed to a market opening in line with the Uruguay Round.

With a college education regarded as essential to marriage and job prospects, Korean parents, and most of their Asian counterparts, are willing to spend their life savings to give their children a head start.

Degrees from overseas universities are particularly sought after with top posts going to Koreans who have studied in the United States.

Koreans, like Japanese, go through annual exam hell. Students who get into top universities are hailed like Olympic heroes. The pressure is so intense - parents hire tutors for children as young as six - that the system has been marred by suicides and huge exam frauds.

On the day of Korea's university entrance exam - up to 900,000 students compete for 100,000 spots at top colleges - business hours are put back an hour so students will not be delayed by traffic jams.

Although education authorities are reluctant to release a detailed timetable, Korea is expected to allow overseas institutions to teach foreign languages from next year.

Full access for vocational training, graduate and post-graduate studies is expected in 1996.

More than 40 US colleges have expressed an interest in exchanges and foundation programmes. American colleges, with the highest profile, can expect stiff competition from Canada, Europe and Australia.

More than 80,000 teachers from local language institutes or hagwons have threatened demonstrations. The hagwons, notoriously inept with poorly trained teachers and few facilities, are expected to close in their thousands.

With the Government introducing exams in English in high school syllabuses and with growing emphasis on the internationalisation of the economy, foreign language institutes are queuing up to gain access.

The market for foreign language teaching is expected to triple in 1995. It was worth US$395 million (HK$3.04 billion) last year.

But there will be resistance from many who have a morbid fear that the foreign influx will erode Confucian traditions.