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North Korea

US travel ban leaves North Korea’s only Western university ‘crippled’, struggling to find non-American teachers

Of the roughly 130 foreigners at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, about 60 had been citizens of the United States

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 9:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 9:42pm

The only Western-funded university in North Korea is scrambling to recruit non-American teachers after a US travel ban to the isolated country forced the school to start the September semester with only half of its faculty.

According to a recruitment notice from a faculty member of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) reviewed by Reuters, the school is on a “vigorous lecturer recruitment campaign” for the spring semester slated to start next year.

The notice, which said the recruitment focus is “non-US professors” mainly from Asia and Europe, suggests discussions with the US State Department about receiving special exemptions for PUST’s volunteers have not gone well.

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Needless to say, our chronic faculty shortage and curriculum instability have been exacerbated even further
PUST notice sent out by Paul Song

Of the roughly 130 foreigners at PUST including faculty members, staffers and family members, about 60 had been US citizens, according to people familiar with PUST operations.

“Needless to say, our chronic faculty shortage and curriculum instability have been exacerbated even further, translating into the emergency situation of crippled school operation and curriculum running,” said the notice sent out by Paul Song, acting dean of the international finance and management department at PUST.

On September 1, the US State Department enforced a ban on Americans travelling to North Korea following the death earlier this year of an American student who had been detained by authorities while on a tour in the reclusive country. It also advised US citizens living there to leave.

North Korea has criticised Washington’s decision to ban US passport holders from visiting the North, with state media describing it as a “sordid” attempt to limit human exchanges. It has also said its doors are always open for all Americans who wish to visit.

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Tensions on the Korean peninsula have escalated in the wake of numerous missile tests and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test by Pyongyang last month.

Insults and threats exchanged between the North’s leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump have also exacerbated global jitters over possible military conflict.

A month after the fall semester had started, a PUST official told Reuters high security concerns over North Korea had made it “difficult to find additional replacement staff”.

“A number of organisations are unwilling to approve staff to travel,” the official added.

The school was founded in 2010 by a Korean-American evangelical Christian with the goal of helping North Korea’s future elite learn the skills to modernise the North and engage with the outside world.

Since its founding, the school has grown to about 500 undergraduate and 60 graduate students studying in mostly three departments – electronic and computer engineering, international finance and management and agriculture and life sciences.