Kim Jong-un aims to transform North Korea’s top university into ‘world-class institution’

Students and academic staff at Kim Il-sung University, North Korea’s most prominent university, has been urged by the country’s supreme leader to advance the institution into becoming a world-class institution.

According to the republic’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim Jong-un sent a letter to the university’s professors and students, urging them to hold more international academic seminars and launch joint research projects with other prestigious universities around the world.

In the letter, written to mark of the university’s 70th anniversary recently, he also pushed for an increase in foreign students into the country so they could learn the Korean language, alongside sending out more doctorate students to study overseas.

In addition to that, Kim suggested that the university’s academics should produce outstanding papers and present them at international conferences and have them published in renowned journals.

“The field of natural science should make a positive contribution to solving urgent scientific and technological problems arising in developing the national economy and bolstering the defense capabilities,” he wrote.

Kim called on the university council and “university Party guidance committee” to help develop the university under a long-term plan “so that its colleges, facilities and departments will make competitive efforts to surpass the major indexes of the most prestigious universities in the world”.

In conjunction with the university’s 70th anniversary on October 1, it organized a symposium and reportedly invited several foreign academics, according to KCNA, in a rare glimpse into the so-called “Hermit Kingdom”.

“Every year Kim Il-sung University holds an international symposium and they invite foreign faculty to go there and make pre-planned presentations – they do this for prestige, it’s not really about exchange,” said Matthew Reichel, head of the Pyongyang Project of the East West Coalition, a Canadian NGO that organizes educational exchanges between North Korea and the West.

“Quite often they make some big announcement that they are going to ‘continue internationalising’, but it’s rare that you see the country’s leader speak in this way, so directly,” he told University World News.

Aidan Foster Carter, a writer and researcher on North Korea, expressed his doubt in the plan, saying that he “couldn’t really see it happening”, adding that Kim’s ‘world-class’ goal was “delusional”.

However, Foster Carter admitted that “it would be interesting if some universities somewhere in the world would test this [apparent opening] in practice”.

Located in the capital of Pyongyang, the institution was founded in 1946, and was North Korea’s first university. It was named after Kim’s grandfather, who had held the same position as Kim.

Image via the Associated Press

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