[Meet the President] Pusan National University offers big city living, with a beach
Pusan National University President Cha Jeong-in says Busan has so much to offer international students that Seoul can’t. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Emerald waters. Sandy beaches. Friendly vibes. Affordable living. Rich history. The list goes on as enumerated by Pusan National University President Cha Jeong-in.
“There are so many reasons that I recommend Busan over Seoul for international students,” Cha told the Korea JoongAng Daily in a recent interview in his office.
“It’s not just some rural city outside greater Seoul,” he continued. “It’s the second-largest city in the country, the heart of the metropolitan area encompassing Busan, Ulsan and South Gyeongsang, and an international transportation and logistics hub facing the Pacific Ocean with so much growth potential.”
In the interview, Cha, a former prosecutor and lawyer, explained why he thinks Busan is a better destination for foreigners studying in Korea and how rural universities can survive the nation’s dwindling student population.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
For those who are unfamiliar with Pusan National University, how would you introduce your school?
Pusan National University is the oldest comprehensive national university in Korea, established in 1946. [Comprehensive national universities are institutes of higher learning that offer a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate programs.] There are nearly 33,000 students at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels across some 120 disciplines and 2,000 international students from about 90 different countries across the world. It’s the engine of Korea’s balanced regional development initiative, representing the second-largest metropolitan area in the country.
An aerial view of the Pusan National University’s Busan Campus in Geumjeong District, Busan [PUSAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY]
What are some strengths of Pusan National University?
We spend more than 20 million won ($14,000) per student at our school, making us one of the top educational spenders out of all Korean universities. We also produced the fourth-highest number of CEOs in the top 100 companies in the country. When it comes to research, we have world-class professors whose work is often featured in the academic journals Nature and Science. Last November, we were the sixth university in Korea to join the Association of Pacific Rim Universities — a consortium of nearly 60 leading research universities — after Seoul National University, Postech, KAIST, Yonsei University and Korea University. Some private universities bearing the brunt of Korea’s declining student population merge or abolish departments, but Pusan National University continues to maintain its nearly 120 majors. Its four campuses across three different cities in the region each have distinctive features as well, with the Yangsan Campus being known for specializing in biomedical sciences.
The university’s newly renovated PNU Saebyeokbeol Library [PUSAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY]
I also noticed a mountain right behind some of the school buildings on my way here.
The campus is located at the foot of Busan’s famous Mount Geumjeong. There’s a stream that passes through the campus with beautiful trails running along it, as well as rest areas with towering trees and large rocks where students can visit for a breather.
A walking trail on the Busan Campus that connects major school buildings and a stream flowing from Mount Geumjeong [PUSAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY]
What’s your take on globalization?
I think globalization comes from an international mindset, which starts with students and professors thinking outside the box. At Pusan National University, we run numerous programs involving the international exchange of students, such as one that sends our domestic students in the fields of science, arts and mathematics to prestigious foreign universities. We’re also big on educating students from developing countries. This year, we invited 12 students from Myanmar, on the recommendation of the NUG [National Unity Government], to study at our school for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.
What are some benefits offered to international students at your school?
One of the most significant benefits is that we allow on-campus housing for all international students.
Every single one of them? Including short-term students?
Yep. There’s also a prayer room and a Halal kitchen for Muslim students. In case international students struggle with classes or need someone to ask about general life in Korea, several programs are here to help them with those needs as well.
A standard dorm room that’s offered to any international student who applies for on-campus housing [PUSAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY]
Are there any difficulties in pursuing globalization in light of the fact that your school is located outside the Seoul metropolitan area?
There certainly are difficulties. They stem from Korean society’s increasing concentration in the Seoul metropolitan area. And because the majority of [the country’s] talent and resources are focused in the greater Seoul area or wish to go there, it’s quite hard for universities outside that zone to attract foreign students because they tend to follow that same social tendency. Over the years, however, Pusan National University has managed to attract many international students who earned high marks in school here and went back to their home countries to play their roles remarkably well. In fact, our university hosts the largest number of recipients of the Global Korea Scholarship.
The opening ceremony of the 27th Busan International Film Festival last Thursday, one of many international events the city holds every year [YONHAP]
If I were an international student, I suspect I’d feel a bit anxious about living so far away from Seoul. What’s good about studying in Busan?
When Korean students travel abroad to study in a foreign country, they don’t always go to the capital. They search for universities or cities that best fit their personal values. What Busan has that Seoul doesn’t is the ocean. Busan is a large city just like Seoul, but on top of that, it’s also a marine city and a port city. Busan may seem to be located in the farthest corner from Seoul, but when you flip the map, you’ll be able to see the opposite. Busan also holds the world’s greatest technology and research capabilities in hydrogen-powered vessels and cars, climate change and port management. Things here are cheap and the city is open to foreigners.
Busan’s famed Haeundae Beach [YONHAP]
As a leading university outside greater Seoul, what are your thoughts on the country’s shrinking student population and schools in rural areas shutting down as a result?
When we talk about problems facing Korean universities, it’s mostly about problems facing Korean universities that aren’t in the Seoul metropolitan area. And the gravest issues are how smart kids are leaving their local communities to move to or near Seoul, and how universities in those small communities are left behind to financially suffer. Pusan National University has led efforts to establish and revise laws that call for increased financial support for national universities and opportunities allowing graduates to get employed by public organizations in their local communities. I also think the country needs to legalize a system that allows “marginal universities” that are on the verge of shutting down to either devise a recovery plan or close.
Cha Jeong-in is the 21st president of Pusan National University. His four-year term began in May 2020. He has taught as a law professor at the university since 2006.
Cha passed the bar exam in 1986 and served as a prosecutor from 1989 to 1993. He worked as a lawyer from 1993 to 2006.
Off campus, he was a member of the Election District Planning Committee in the 20th National Assembly from 2015 to 2016; a member of the Prosecution Reform Taskforce in the Ministry of Justice from 2017 to 2018; vice chairman of the Justice Ministry’s Committee of the Inspector General from 2018 to 2019; and an ordinance examiner of the Ministry of Government Legislation from 2018 to 2019. Since May 2021, he’s been the chairman of the President’s Regional Council of Busan, Ulsan, Gyeongnam and Jeju Universities.
Cha received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctor’s degrees in law from Pusan National University.
Pusan National University
May 15, 1946
Leap forward, PNU!
Busan Campus: Geumjeong District, Busan
Yangsan Campus: Yangsan, South Gyeongsang
Miryang Campus: Miryang, South Gyeongsang
Ami Campus: Seo District, Busan
1,291,986 square meters (319.26 acres)
Undergraduate colleges and departments
Schools and departments: 117
Academic staff (2022)
Administrative staff (2022)
Employment rate (2021)
Number of students (2022)
Short-term students (language learning, exchange program, etc.): 1,132
By country (2022)
China 40.6 percent
Vietnam 5.7 percent
Uzbekistan 4.7 percent
Japan 4.5 percent
Kazakhstan 4.4 percent
Other 40.1 percent (90 countries and territories including France, Germany and the United States)
Department with the most international students (2022)
College of Economics and International Trade
Dormitory acceptance rate (2022)
100 percent (All international students are guaranteed on-campus housing. In 2021, 41.56 percent of eligible students lived on campus.)
Average tuition of self-funded undergraduate students per semester (2022)
2.3 million won ($1,635)
Website and social media
YouTube: PNU International
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [email@example.com]