[KS] Korean studies in UK

Don Starr d.f.starr at durham.ac.uk
Tue Apr 19 04:50:58 EDT 2005

I have read some of the correspondence about Korean studies in Oxford, and
have seen Durham's name mentioned several times. 
Many of us in the field of East Asian studies feel there are compelling
cultural, political and economic reasons to include the study of Korean
language and culture in UK universities, especially in the context of
departments of East Asian studies. However, UK universities have become very
much market-orientated as increasing financial pressures are placed on them.
The prevailing logic is that small units are uneconomic, and this does not
just affect Korean studies; Durham has decided to close down the whole of
its Department of East Asian Studies in 2007, including Chinese and Japanese
studies.  The need is for long-term funding; although we are profoundly
grateful for all the generous support from the KRF, and Japan Foundation and
similar Chinese sources, the core funding should come from the UK
government. The North East of England is an area that has sought to attract
East Asian investment; although the Korean firms (Samsung and LG) have
closed most of their factories here, the area still looks very much to East
Asia for economic links. It is particularly ironic in this context that the
two local universities that teach Korean, Durham and Newcastle, are both
closing their Korean courses. In spite of looking to East Asia for
investment, the local development agency, One NorthEast, has given no
support, not even moral support, for the maintenance of East Asian studies
in this region. 
Although Durham has not had single honours courses in Korean, it has had
staff researching Korean art and music for over twenty years and offered
courses in Korean language and culture to undergraduate and postgraduate
students. A number of these have gone on to study to a higher level in
Korea, for example by applying for Samsung scholarships to study at MA level
in Korean universities. Some of these graduates are already making important
contributions to relations with Korea, and more will do so. We have to get
across the message that informed decision makers make better decisions; we
need Korean speakers with a knowledge of Korean history and culture in key
diplomatic and commercial positions.  
The UK government is clear that relying simply on the market place squeezes
out minority and more expensive subjects; it has asked the funding council,
HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England), to investigate how
other stakeholders, in the current jargon, can have a say in the national
planning and provision process, instead of just leaving it to individual
universities to 'subsidise' these subjects or close them. HEFCE is currently
writing a report. Japanese and Chinese governmental and diplomatic sources
have been lobbying vigorously to maintain their subjects. The Koreans should
do the same by writing to the British ambassador in Seoul, the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office and the Foreign Secretary in London, and HEFCE in
Don Starr
Head of Department
Department of East Asian Studies
University of Durham
Elvet Hill
Durham DH1 3TH
tel: +44 191 334 5350
fax: +44 191 334 5331 
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