North Korea ready to learn from the outside world

New Zealand Herald (hat tip DPRK Studies)
David McNeill

North Korea is set to take a potentially giant leap out of the intellectual cold with the construction of a new all-English language university staffed by academics from around the world and teaching the cream of the country’s graduate students.

Construction of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology is nearing completion on a 100ha plot leased by the People’s Army in the North’s capital. The Army has loaned 800 solders to build the campus, which is largely funded by a network of Christian evangelicals.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is believed to have personally ordered the site cleared for use and granted the university the right to hire staff from anywhere in the world.

The university is expected to eventually have 2600 undergraduate and postgraduate students and to help train a new generation of elite business executives and technicians.

The project’s leaders in South Korea and the United States are playing down its potential impact for fear of spooking the North’s jittery authorities, but agree that it represents potentially a seismic shift in the reclusive state’s largely frozen relations with the rest of the planet.

“It will be the country’s first international university,” said Professor Chan Mo Park, co-chair of the university and a prominent Seoul scientist.

“The North has good universities but they don’t communicate with the rest of the world. This will let everyone know that the capacity of their scientists is very high.”

Despite crumbling facilities, Pyongyang’s standards of computer science, software and applied mathematics are world-class, say experts, and its youth are bursting with pent-up business energy. The university is expected to generate spin-off businesses and eventually a Silicon Valley-style business park.

The faculty of 45 will offer an MA in business administration as well as courses on information technology and agriculture to an initial cohort of about 150 students recruited from the country’s top research institutions.

Given the scale of foreign involvement and the money poured into the new campus so far, those involved say they are confident it will open its first research laboratories this autumn and its doors to students next spring.

But the legendary unpredictability of the Kim Jong-Il government could still throw a spanner in the university’s works.


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