Koreans seek place in their communities

Korea's universities will have to change their priorities to respond to regional development needs, a leading academic visiting Europe has said.

Jungmin Kim, professor of regional development at Mokpo National University, told last week's Regional Studies Association conference in Sweden that universities had so far made an extremely limited contribution. "Among the three traditional roles of the university: education, research and service, the Korean university has functioned most as educator, then researcher. So far, service to the community is an area neglected by the university. But now local universities must take the form of the university company."

University-industry co-operation first received state support as early as 1963 with the passing of the Act for the Promotion of Vocational Education. But in practice links remain limited. Although 76 per cent of Korea's doctors of science or technology work in universities, less than 7 per cent of national research and development expenditure goes there.

In Chonnam province, which has seven universities and community colleges including Mokpo National University, only five out of 101 enterprises surveyed had experience of co-operation with universities, and none of the five was satisfied with the experience.

An important factor in low contact rates was lack of knowledge - 36 per cent of enterprises had no idea of co-operation and a further 42 per cent said they would not know how to go about it. "The universities and the corporations simply do not know each other," said Professor Kim.

He said that another factor was the traditional centralisation of Korean life. "Being integrated into corporations which exert control at the national core, local enterprises retain little linkage with the local community. And the local university has been nothing more than an education facility physically located in a place with little interaction with the local community."

But local autonomy legislation due to come into effect in July will make regions much more responsible for their economic fortunes, and place fresh demands on universities, particularly in deprived areas like Chonnam province, where per capita incomes in 1990 were only 68 per cent of the national average.

Roles to be played, he said, included training entrepreneurs and workers, consultancy and assisting information exchange. All this should be initiated by a Council for Co-operation and Coordination bringing together enterprises, universities, government and the local authorities.

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