Hope for Peace and Prosperity: Pyongyang University of Science & Technology, North Korea's First International University, Opens Its Doors

bridges vol. 25, April 2010 / Feature Article

By Caroline Adenberger

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logo_small1.jpg After more than a decade of preparation, the first private international university of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) plans to open its doors this May, with 150 undergraduate and 60 graduate students to inaugurate this historic moment. The Pyongyang University of Science & Technology, or PUST, is the brainchild of Korean-American Dr. James Chin Kyung Kim, an entrepreneur turned educator. His vision and dedication led to an educational experiment that is not just about opening campus doors but hopefully about opening minds, too.

The PUST project is a poster child for an international higher education collaboration that demonstrates the potential and the power of science-based relationships with countries perceived to be internationally isolated.

Kim, who is the founding president of PUST, is clear about the university's mission: to reconcile the North and the South of Korea, and to train and educate a North Korean elite that will be ready to engage with international partners once that time comes. Since the fall of the Eastern Bloc some 20 years ago, options for educational exchanges with North Korean higher education institutions have become limited, to say the least. Kim was able to involve individuals and to engage donors from South Korea, the United States, Canada, the European Union, China, and other countries to work together to build this unique institution of higher education, which will serve as a window opening into the Western world and culture for young North Koreans.

Dr. James Kim in front of the PUST construction site, left, and the R&D Center, right.

Dr. Kim has some experience to draw on when it comes to such a challenging educational experiment as PUST: Eighteen years ago, in 1992, he founded the Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST) in Yanji. map_small1.jpgYanji is the capital city of an autonomous Korean enclave in the Chinese province of Jilin that borders on North Korea (see map on right), with almost half its population of Korean decent. YUST was China's first foreign university, founded at a time when China was still a relatively closed society. Despite the many challenges and constraints that YUST has faced since its inauguration, it has become one of the top 100 universities of China. Within the last 18 years, YUST has grown into a science and technology school with nine colleges, 12 departments, and 35 research institutes that cater to about 1800 undergraduates and about 600 continuing education students. The international faculty of 300 instructors hails from 13 different countries, and the languages of instruction are Chinese, Korean, German and English. In addition to an English Department where students acquire and improve their mastery of the English language, YUST offers its students German language classes in its own German Department. Richard Maislinger, an Austrian language instructor from Ostermiething, a small village north of Salzburg, who has been teaching German at YUST for the last two years, describes his experiences as "sometimes challenging, sometimes amazing, and always an enrichment for my life. Chinese students seem to be more thankful and respectful to their teachers, which makes teaching much easier. On the other hand it requires more effort to make them develop their own ideas."

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} So far, 2300 students have graduated from YUST, and 90 percent of all graduates have found jobs after graduation. About 15 percent of all graduates, or approximately 350 students, went abroad after graduating from YUST to pursue additional academic training.

According to Kim, YUST currently has about 20 alumni faculty members who returned after their studies abroad to teach the next generation of YUST students. Also, as Kim stresses, YUST offers all its graduates a "lifelong learning" option: They are welcome to return to school if the need for further academic training arises - free of cost, of course. Kim was not only involved in the set-up of the school, but continued to lead it through its early years. For six-and-a-half years, he was the school administrator and taught entrepreneurship to YUST students, while living with his wife on campus. In an interview with FORTUNE magazine in September 2009, Kim stated: "There was a lot of suspicion from the Chinese government at first, but as the school has grown we've shown them that we are not in any way a threat to them."

If one considers YUST as a demonstration project, then it is largely due to its success that, in March 2001, Kim received an official request from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to build a similar institution in Pyongyang. The DPRK Ministry of Education authorized the establishment of PUST by the Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture (NAFEC, a nonprofit organization in South Korea and the US), which backs Dr. Kim's endeavor. The authorization included the commitment to appoint Kim as PUST president, to hire faculty of any nationality, and to use the land PUST would be built on for 50 years, with an option to renew the lease after its expiration. Last September, after almost 10 years of working on

Officials of the new Pyongyang University of Science and Technology opened the new institution in North Korea in September 2009.

implementation of the PUST project, a building dedication ceremony was finally held with more than 200 international dignitaries in attendance (click here to read Norman Neureiter's column on his attendance at the PUST building dedication ceremony). As of April 2010, the faculty comprises 40 professors and lecturers, and the number is still increasing. Much like YUST, all prospective students of PUST are nominated by the Education Ministry. The admission process for universities in North Korea is centrally organized: the Education Ministry organizes a three-day-long examination, comparable to the American SAT Test. This comprehensive examination in seven different subjects is a deciding factor for who gets sent to the university, who will enter the workforce, and who will join the military forces. From this pool of nominees, PUST selected its first 210 students for admission this spring. The teaching language at PUST is English for all courses, and open Internet access will be available for all students and faculty members - a major difference from all other educational facilities in North Korea. In order to guarantee the free "in & out" of international faculty, guest lectures, and visitors, the PUST campus will be designated a so-called "Special District," easing immigration, customs, and communication with the authorities. 

Kim also travels regularly to the US, and to Washington, DC, in order to keep the international communication channels open. With his regular visits to institutions like the US Department of State, or the US Department of Commerce's Export Regulation Authority, Kim wants to ensure that international activities related to the establishment and operation of PUST do not violate the U.N. sanctions on North Korea. PUST is qualified as a humanitarian project. Critical support on the US side came from the former president of Rice University, Malcolm Gillis, who joined Kim's project in 2004 and is now one of the PUST Founding Committee Chairs together with James Kim; Chan-Mo Park, former president of Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea; and Jung Bae Kim, the former president of Korea University. Like Kim, Gillis has gained some experience in establishing universities abroad modeled after private US higher education institutions: He is also involved currently in the establishment of Tan Tao University outside Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, which is expected to admit its first students in fall 2010.

What motivated James Kim to embark on missions of building schools in China and North Korea? Before Kim became some sort of an educational missionary, he was a successful small entrepreneur in South Korea, where he was born. Kim eventually emigrated to the United States where he and his wife expanded their family business, became US citizens, and were having a good life. Kim explained that his father was an educator, too, who built schools in Korea and, during the Japanese occupation of Korea, fled to China where he opened another school. Father and son shared a firm belief in the value of education, but their  faith in God motivated - and in James Kim's case also enabled - the pursuit of his ambitious goals of building educational facilities in China and North Korea.  Kim, who is a devout Christian, has received major financial support from Christian

Model of PUST Campus (click image to enlarge).

communities, mainly in South Korea and the US. It is estimated that the original costs of building PUST were about $35 million, plus another $150 million that are now needed for the endowment of the private university to ensure operations: All students will receive scholarships to attend PUST, which include books, room, and board. Because he was not allowed to use any materials from North Korea to build the school, due to the U.N. sanctions, all materials had to be shipped in from abroad, which turned into an extremely costly undertaking. For example, the bricks needed for the buildings were shipped from China, 12.5 million of them. Originally, the cost of one brick would have been 20 cents, however, after several times of loading them on and off trains during the shipping process, the costs sextupled to $1.20 per brick.

But after many years of difficult construction, PUST is finally able to focus on what it was always meant to do: educating a new generation of North Koreans who will one day become the country's technical elite and business leaders. PUST starts off this spring with programs in Information Science Technology, Management, and Agriculture and Life Sciences. Schools of Architecture and Engineering, and Public Health and Environmental Science will follow in the near future. Eventually, there are plans for a "Pyongyang Techno Park" to be established surrounding the PUST campus, where international companies can open branches to help train the freshly educated students on-site, and to help the launching of joint-venture businesses.

Several weeks ago, during a visit to Washington, DC, Kim again issued an open invitation to the international community to join the PUST project. He appreciates the continuing humanitarian support such as food, medicine, and clothing that South Korea and the international community have provided to the people of North Korea in the past 60 years. But while these forms of support are still needed, Kim emphasized that "we have to educate the people of North Korea on how to fish, not just give them fish," in order to help them improve their situation in the long run. He invited people interested in both long-term and short-term positions to apply for teaching positions at PUST; encouraged international educational partners to share their expertise in developing PUST's curricula for the different schools; and asked volunteer workers who want to support PUST to join the project, where there is still a need for language tutors for the English House, and for campus medical staff. Or some may simply want to visit PUST for a few days or a few weeks as visiting scholars or foreign specialists, forming their own impression of what is happening there. As it gains students, educational programs, and additional international partners, PUST may serve not only as a window through which North Koreans peek into the Western world, but also as an opportunity for the West to take a fresh look at what is happening in North Korea.  

For further information on PUST, please contact:
Northeast Asia Foundation for Education & Culture (NEA Foundation),
PUST Founding Committee
1310-10, 5th Floor, Bok-Gi-Kwan, Seocho 4-Dong, Seocho Gu, Seoul, Korea (137-856)
Tel: (82-2)561-2445;   Fax: (82-2)566-1450
Email: neafound[at]chollian.net
Web: http://www.neafound.org, or http://www.pust.kr


The author, Caroline Adenberger, has been a team member of the OST since July 2004; since January 2005 she has been working as editor for bridges.

Sources and References:

Stone, Richard. "A Mission to Educate the Elite." Science Magazine 316, no. 5822 (2007):183. Online Edition. <http://www.nkeconwatch.com/2007/04/13/a-mission-to-educate-the-elite/>  (12 April 2010).

William, Mike. "Swords into plowshares: Rice's Gillis co-founds private university in North Korea." Rice University News & Media Relations, 7 October 2009. <http://www.media.rice.edu/media/NewsBot.asp?MODE=VIEW&ID=13163> (10 April 2010).

Huff-Hannon, Joseph. "CoR interviews PUST founder and president, Dr. jin-kyung Kim." Cultures of Resistance online interview, March 2008. <http://culturesofresistance.org/pust-interview-march-08> (10 April 2010).

Leary, Warren E.  "James Kim, Entrepreneur and Educator, Describes How He Built an S&T Relationship with North Korea." AAAS Online News Archive, 9 March 2010. <http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2010/0309pyongyang_u.shtml> (12 April 2010).

Powell, Bill. "The Capitalist Who Loves North Korea," Fortune Magazine Online Edition, 15 September 2009.  <http://money.cnn.com/2009/09/14/magazines/
fortune/pyongyang_university_north_korea.fortune> (10 April 2010).

Google Tech Talks, "Pyongyang University of Science & Technology: the First International University in the Heart of North Korea," YouTube Video featuring a presentation by Dr. David Kim.<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Yo31Zokl9Q> (10 April 2010).