The project also aims to combat declines in the population of domestic college-aged students, which figures show won’t be sufficient to meet college entrance quotas by 2018.
“Countries across the world are engaged in efforts to host foreign students to expand their higher education industry and bring talent from outside their borders. In light of the decreasing number of students and productive population, we need to follow suit,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Getting more foreign talent has become more important”
“Getting more foreign talent has become more important. We will continue to work hard to improve and promote the excellence of Korea’s higher education.”
In order to attract more international students, the ministry will encourage universities to develop special degree programmes, offer scholarships for foreign students and provide more appealing residency options for those who stay and work in key industries.
In 2011, the ministry of education announced aims to host 200,000 university students by 2020. However, government data shows that the number of foreign students has dropped from 89,537 in 2011 to 84,891 in 2014.
According to UNESCO data, China is the main sending country with Mongolia, Vietnam, the US and Japan sending a couple thousand each.
The new plan outlined by the ministry this month is to reach 200,000 foreign students by 2023 and increase foreign student spending from 796bn won ($620m) to 1.5tn won ($1.2bn) by 2020.
The ministry said it will allow universities to create specialised programmes designed specifically to attract foreign students in the country’s strength industries: shipping, automobiles and information technology.
More state-run student service centres will also be set up to support foreign students, and integrated residences will be built to allow students from different universities and colleges to form communities.
The ministry also aims to make it easier for students already in the country studying the Korean language to transfer to degree programmes.
Foreign students account for around 2% of all higher education enrolments, but outside of Seoul, it’s even fewer. The ministry hopes the percentage will increase to 5% in the next eight years.
To attract students to provincial destinations, the government will provide incentives through it’s Global Korea Scholarship programme.
“Korea’s universities need to take an initiative to invite foreign students and create an environment that supports turning their ideas into business start-ups”
And in order to retain top foreign talent, the ministry of justice has loosened naturalisation laws for engineering, technology and natural science students. Students will now only be required to work two years, instead of five, as university professors or researchers in order to be eligible for Korean citizenship.
Two years’ work experience in the field of technology could also be allowed for some students. “The deregulation is part of the government’s efforts to embrace talented professionals as a human resource,” a ministry official said.
Last month, in an comment piece for Korea JoongAng Daily, Chee Myung-Gun, director of Sejong University, argued that in order to stay competitive, Korea needs to attract and retain foreign talent.
“Korea’s universities need to take an initiative to invite foreign students and create an environment that supports turning their ideas into business start-ups. It is important to establish an ecosystem to help start-ups speedily set up and grow as in Silicon Valley,” he wrote.