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(Yonhap Interview) King Sejong Institute seeks more overseas branches

2017/12/18 13:56

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SEOUL, Dec. 18 (Yonhap) -- The King Sejong Institute Foundation (KSIF), a state-run Korean language education center, plans to expand its overseas branches to up to 200, in line with the government's goal to better promote the Korean language and culture, its head said Monday.

"We plan to increase the number of branch institutes to 200, in accordance with the government's policy to increase the number of 'hallyu' fans up to 100 million by 2020," KSIF Chairman Song Hyang-keun said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. Hallyu is a term referring to the international boom of Korean pop culture.

Song, who also serves as a Korean language professor at Busan University of Foreign Studies, said KSIF will pursue additional openings of its institutes in "consideration of the government's public diplomacy policy."

   Named after the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) king who invented the Korean alphabet, hangeul, the institute runs 171 language schools in 54 nations, with some 50,000 students. KSIF opened its first institute in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in March of 2007. It is similar to China's Confucius Institute, France's Alliance Francaise and Germany's Goethe-Institute.

"We've been blessed with the government's continued support, the country's rising stature in the global economy, culture and sports, as well as the unabating popularity of hallyu," the chairman said.

KSIF Chairman Song Hyang-keun speaks in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Dec. 18, 2017. (Yonhap) KSIF Chairman Song Hyang-keun speaks in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Dec. 18, 2017. (Yonhap)

Song also underscored that the foundation and its staff have worked with the duty to produce students that are pro-South Koreans, often by running special courses in which students can experience a vast array of Korean culture, including food, traditional music and K-pop.

"Demand is increasing every year. Naturally, a lot of foreigners are knocking on the doors of our institutes, since there is a limit in learning about Korean overseas merely through pop culture," noted Song.

Thanks to the popularity of Korean music and television, the foundation's programs have seen a strong increase in demand. The Moscow institute has introduced entrance exams amid fierce competition while that in Jakarta currently has several hundreds of applicants signed up on a waiting list. A recent application opening at Tehran was met with hundreds of students hoping to sign up with the program.

KSIF operates its program by funding locally initiated Korean language education programs overseas, such as those run by universities. It receives applications and certifies accepted institutes as Sejong Institutes. As of now, the foundation provides 50 million won (US$46,000) in annual subsidies to each overseas affiliate.

Song said his goal is to raise the amount of annual subsidies to 100 million won by 2019 by seeking additional sponsorships and creating new revenue programs to increase the foundation's overseas funds.

Throughout the years, the foundation has also strengthened its online education programs. The number of subscribers on its online-learning website Nuri-Sejonghakdang (www.sejonghakdang.org), surpassed 100,000 in August, nearly doubling within two years. The website hosts some 13,000 multimedia educational materials, including video courses, online comics and animations. The user interface is available in Korean, English and Chinese.

But in order to scale further, KSIF needs to increase its budget, which stood at 22 billion won this year. The foundation has a staff of 56 but approximately one-third is comprised of irregular employees.

"We haven't seen a substantial increase in manpower. Besides administrative workers, we only have 12 people who actually manage and coordinate with our overseas institutes. A single staff, in effect, is in charge of managing 14 institutes and 4,100 students," Song said, underscoring the need for increased financial support.

A screenshot of Nuri-Sejonghakdang, the King Sejong Institute Foundation's online-learning website (Yonhap) A screenshot of Nuri-Sejonghakdang, the King Sejong Institute Foundation's online-learning website (Yonhap)

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