"In order to raise Korea University (KU) students as global leaders, KU has to equip them with fluent communication skills. I am talking about the importance of teaching in the English language. As such, KU is planning to drastically increase the ratio of English Mediated Courses (EMC) in KU.” Euh Yoon-dae (’63, Business Administration), the 15th President of KU, declared in an interview with JoongAng Ilbo in 2005. Despite his ambitious plan to transform KU into a global KU, students and professors have been bringing up complaints concerning the EMC system in KU ceaselessly since 2005.
▲ Euh Yoon-dae, 15th President of KU. Provided by University Newspaper.
Thirteen years have passed since President Euh’s remarks. As of 2018, countless EMCs are taking place in KU, with each department requiring students to take at least five EMCs as a general graduation requirement, according to the website “KU Education Information.” In such an environment, most KU students would naturally have experienced EMCs. In fact, a survey done by The Granite Tower (GT) revealed that 82.1 percent of students took at least one EMC last semester. Although the presence of EMCs is one of the most important factors in university rankings both in Korea and abroad, and it means that foreign students can take lectures in KU without a sizable language barrier, various members, including students and even professors in KU, are skeptical toward and reluctant to take EMCs.
▲ How many EMCs did you take last semester? The survey was conducted by the Granite Tower (GT). Total number of responses ; 99 KU students.
Big Ambition for Global KU
Having EMCs is indispensable for KU to land a higher ranking in university rankings. For example, JoongAng Ilbo University Evaluation, the most renowned university evaluation service in Korea, used to include the ratio of the number of EMCs to the number of total classes as one of the standards for evaluation until 2014. Even though said evaluation excluded EMC ratios starting 2015, the number of foreign professors and students remain a potent standard by which universities are ranked. Similarly, the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Ranking, one of the university ranking services held in highest esteem in the world, also takes into account ratios of foreign professors and students, which ultimately means more EMCs.
Although both evaluations do not directly consider EMC ratios, it does not change the fact that foreign professors usually cannot conduct lectures in Korean, and that their presence itself translates to the abundance of EMCs. Furthermore, the presence of various foreign students calls for more EMCs to be opened in both majors and general studies courses. Although Professors from English-speaking countries can contribute to providing quality EMCs, Korean professors are also obligated to conduct lectures in English in order to meet the needs of foreign students.
For KU, having a higher ranking means having more Korean students enroll in KU who could potentially choose other universities such as Yonsei University (YU). To foreign students who decided to apply for exchange student programs to universities in Asia, higher university rankings and higher EMC ratios encourage them to choose KU instead of other prestigious universities in Japan or China. Advancing academically by appointing more tenure-track faculty and sponsoring more professors and graduate students seems to be the sound way to elevate KU’s standing in Korea and in the world. However, such methods are costly and their results are not easily calculated, which convinced the school administration to resort to opening more EMCs as an easy means to elevate KU.
▲ Other responses include: I could not understand EMCs well (22.5%)
Even though having more EMCs is the cornerstone that allows KU to become “Global KU,” most Korean students who went through an ordinary curriculum in Korea preparing for the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) find it difficult to comprehend a lecture held entirely in English. Not only do they struggle because of their limited English ability, the fact that they are obligated to read arduous and often incomprehensible undergraduate level texts in English further inconveniences Korean students. Some students bemoaned how difficult it was having to learn concepts that they had never seen before in English on the Korea University Lecture Evaluation (KLUE), a site wellknown to KU students as a lecture review platform.
Perhaps to no one’s surprise, GT’s survey results revealed that the EMC system in KU is not operated properly. First, KU students who were dissatisfied or not sure with the EMC system answered that Korean professors’ delivery of the lecture was underwhelming, as indicated by 25
percent and 24.6 percent of students’ responses respectively. Moreover, it was revealed that students take EMCs not because they want to increase their English skills or learn about academic content in English; rather, they replied that there were no Korean classes for the same topic available. Notably, 12.2 percent of students replied that they just wanted to obtain higher grades, which is made more likely by taking EMCs because grade distribution in EMCs is based on the absolute evaluation system.
It should be mentioned that only a few professors have studied abroad long enough to reach the point where they are confident and certain enough to teach advanced material in English. In most cases, they receive their bachelor or master’s degrees in Korea and only spend a few years studying abroad for their Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy). When EMCs are taught by such non-native instructors, students cannot fully take advantage of their courses.
Seeing as how they are placed outside their comfort zones, Korean professors are naturally ambivalent toward EMCs. According to the Special Contract of KU Personnel Policy that tenure-track faculty members enter into, new professors who are appointed at KU mandatorily have to conduct their lectures in English for a certain period of time. “Although I am not a professor, I obviously think that Korean professors teaching courses in English feel awkward . No one likes awkwardness. They would want to be certain, not insecure when they teach,” commented Lee Gyu Sang (’16, Health and Environmental Science), Head of Division of Education Policy of KU Student Union (KUSU).
▲ Other responses include: EMCs are hard to understand (14.5%), Students can meet friends from various countries in EMCs (8.05%)
▲ Other responses include: No particular reason (2.4%), Interaction with Foreign Students (2.4%)
Lecture for Whom?
Although one might expect both Korean students and professors to struggle in EMCs, nobody could have expected that even foreign students familiar with English would also be in the same boat. Ironically, EMCs, which were supposed to tend to the needs of overseas students, are perceived as a rather bothersome chore. This problem stems from the fact that Korean professors’ slurred speech and broken English does not meet foreign students’ high-class expectations.
Furthermore, the fact that only a few lectures in KU are conducted entirely in English disconcerts students who expected English lectures. It is not difficult to find lectures in KLUE complaining that professors take recourse to Korean when delivering difficult concepts or answering challenging questions. The survey further corroborates the claim that professors sparsely use English; only 34.7 percent of respondents answered that the EMCs they took were conducted entirely in English.
“Although we normally think that providing EMCs is equal to providing a broader ar ray of choices and opportunities for overseas students, it is actually not,” Lee stated. What is more, such students cannot easily figure out whether the lecture he or she wishes to take is a real EMC, because they have narrower access to Korean lecture reviews when they register for their courses. It is time to question whether EMCs truly benefit anyone in KU.
▲ Lee Gyu Sang, Head of Division of Education Policy of KUSU. Photographed by Kim Jeong Ho.
What can be done to satisfy all members?
Although EMCs are perceived as a hassle to many in KU, their presence is important in that they are the only lectures that foreign students not fluent in Korean can easily access. EMCs’ good intention of preparing students with English academic content and providing accessible lectures to foreigners is being hampered by the realistic limitation of lecturers and students who received their education mostly in Korea. Such a fact makes it acceptable for professors to use broken English and liberally use Korean, thus leading to a “lecture for no one.”
▲ Other responses include: Only professors who are fluent in English should conduct EMCs (1.1%)
In the survey, 30.8 percent of respondents called for the administration to attenuate the EMC requirement in a manner befitting different majors. “As far as I know, some freshmen in the College of Engineering and College of Science are automatically enrolled in English General Physics or Basic Chemistry courses. It is burdensome for them to understand such materials even in Korean; imagine how strenuous doing so in English must be,” Lee lamented. In the same vein, forcing students who major in academic fields that rarely use English, such as Korean Education and Classical Chinese, to take five EMCs comes across as less than rational.
While most KU students agreed with the fact that they could learn academic jargon in English with EMCs, they also gravitated toward the consensus that professors’ deliveries or their own capability to participate in EMCs were not up to par. In order to ameliorate their EMC experience, 20.8 percent of them demanded extra seminars that professors could take to improve their English, and 10.8 percent of them requested extra English classes to help them thrive in EMCs.
Lee also shared his own opinion, suggesting that KU should not force new professors to conduct lectures in English. “Only when those who can and want to teach EMCs get to teach EMCs, can quality lectures be made. It is the same for students. Only those who truly want to learn majors and general courses in English should sign up for EMCs, instead of having to compulsorily sign up for them.” In order for KU to become “Global KU,” patiently and steadily building a stalwart castle rather than a tenuous sand castle is the greatest virtue it can embody.