Educational Trends in Korea

Written By Trent Lorcher

Although Korean students studying abroad in the United States have decreased in recent years, Koreans still make up the third-highest population of international students in the United States with over 70,000.

The Value of Education

As a whole, Asian students coming to the United States are viewed positively. Korean students studying abroad in the United States are one reason for this positive--sometimes stereotypical--view of Asian students.

Koreans take their education seriously. Koreans spend more on private education tuition, as a percentage of GDP than any other country in the world. According to the Wall Street Journal, Koreans spent the equivalent of nearly $18-billion on private tuition in 2013. In that same year, the article states, education accounted for over 10% of consumer spending in an average household. Much of this spending went toward studying English.

Unlike the United States, which gives much of its educational autonomy to local entities, the Korean system is centralized, with 3/4 of its funding coming from the national government. According to the Center on International Education Benchmarking, the Ministry of Education gives bonuses for top-performing schools. The incentive for high achievement is there for school administrators, teachers, students, and parents.

Study Abroad Outlook

All educational trends in Korea spring from Korea's commitment to education. South Korea has one of the highest educated citizenry in the world. It's an important source country for the global education market and consistently ranks high in international student assessments in science, math, and reading.

One issue to be tackled is population shrinkage according to the 2018 article in  World Education :

“ By 2060, more than 40 percent of the Korean population is expected to be over 65, and the country’s population is projected to shrink by 13 percent to 42.3 million in 2050. This cataclysmic demographic shift is already causing the closure of schools and universities, as well as reductions in university admissions quotas. If this aging trend can’t be reversed, it could lead to severe labor shortages and jeopardize Korea’s prosperity, if not ruin the country. Korean youths will likely find it much easier to find employment, but they will shoulder the heavy burden of supporting the country’s rapidly growing elderly population. “ (Education in Korea, Deepti Mani”

As noted in the opening, the number of students from South Korea studying abroad has declined--due to economic forces--but the number of international students coming from the nation remains high. Patterns of study have changed. Students from South Korea are now more likely to choose short-term programs that focus on language acquisition than they have in the past.

International students from South Korea prefer the United States as a study abroad destination, followed by China. Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines also rank high on the list for study abroad candidates. According to Education for Global Development, Koreans choose the United States as a study abroad destination to study English. The rising cost of private tuition and the opportunities available to US degree holders also plays an important part in student choice.

US and Canadian schools looking to attract international students should be aware of these educational trends in Korea:

  • Affordability has become more important in recent years. The most important consideration for Korean students studying abroad is quality of education. Concerns about affordability have increased in recent years. In addition to a drop in the number of international students, the amount international students are spending has also declined.
  • More affordable destinations exist. Although some choose to stay home to get an education, others have opted for more affordable study abroad locations. This has led students away from preferred destinations like the United States and Canada to closer destinations, such as China and the Philippines.
  • Schools should focus on quality in their recruiting efforts. The cost of living and standard of living in the United States makes it nearly impossible for an American, Canadian, or British schools to win an affordability battle with Asian destinations. The high regard Koreans give to a US, Canadian, or British education is the selling point. In other words, focus on the benefits of an American education, not on the cost of one.
  • Demographics are shifting. Trends are the result of many factors. In addition to concerns about affordability, Korean demographics are shifting. The number of university-aged students has declined, leading to a lower number of students in the recruiting pool.

Don't let the drop in Korean students studying abroad discourage your school's efforts in trying to attract them. Korea is still a major country for international education. It is important to understand, however, that the decrease in the student-aged population and a larger focus on affordability should shape your efforts to attract these students.

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About the author

Trent Lorcher has taught high school English for 19 years. In addition to hosting a foreign exchange student from China, he's traveled extensively, including 18 months in Central America, 2 years in Italy, and additional time in Mexico, France, Morocco, and Spain. He dreams of one day retiring to Spain with his beautiful bride in a place big enough for their 5 kids to visit.

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