[KS] Fine article on the closure of NK universities at University World News
Afostercarter at aol.com
Afostercarter at aol.com
Thu Jun 30 12:43:02 EDT 2011
Dear friends and colleagues,
You'll be aware of reports that North Korea is closing
its universities for the time being. As so often,
a strange story; one wonders if it can be true.
Here is the best article that I have yet read about this
- from a source with which, to my shame, I was
previously unfamiliar. Note the care taken to check
out the story. Too often, as we know, sections of the
"reptile press" will print any rumour about NK as fact.
Who UWN? This is of wider interest. When Murdoch sold
the Times Higher Ed and Times Education Supplements
to private equity, the new owners summarily eliminated
most of the international coverage. Those thus got rid of
founded UWN, as a free online resource. Tell your friends.
(Full disclosure: I am quoted, but - more to the point - so
are those who reside there, or have very recently visited.)
Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds
E: _afostercarter at aol.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at aol.com)
_afostercarter at yahoo.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at yahoo.com) W: _www.aidanfc.net_
Flat 1, 40 Magdalen Road, Exeter, Devon, EX2 4TE, England, UK
T: (+44, no 0) 07970 741307 (mobile); 01392 257753 (home) Skype:
Aidan.Foster.Carter Twitter: @fcaidan
NORTH KOREA: Learning stops as students sent to work Yojana Sharma
30 June 2011
Close watchers of North Korean affairs were caught on the hop this week by
reports that universities in the hermit kingdom would be closed from 27
June for up to 10 months while students are sent to work on farms, in
factories and in construction.
Diplomats in Pyongyang confirmed that students were being drafted into
manual labour on the outskirts of the city until April next year to prepare
for major celebrations to commemorate the centenary of the late leader Kim Il
Sung's birthday. But they said this did not mean the closure of
Reports originating in South Korea and Japan suggested that the Pyongyang
government had ordered universities to cancel classes until April next
year, exempting only students graduating in the next few months and foreign
The reports said the students would be put to work on construction
projects in major cities and on other works in a bid to rebuild the economy. This
could indicate that the country's food crisis and economic problems are
worse than previously thought.
Experts on North Korea said full-scale university closures would be
unprecedented. However, it was not unusual for students to be engaged in manual
labour, with the academic year sometimes shortened in order to send
students onto farms and construction sites.
Peter Hughes, British Ambassador to North Korea, told University World
News by email from Pyongyang: "There has been no official announcement in
DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] about university students being
sent to carry out manual labour for the next 10 months, but I can confirm
that students from all the universities in Pyongyang have been mobilised to
work at construction sites in the outskirts of the city until April 2012.
"Some two years ago the DPRK announced that it would build 200,000 units
of accommodation in the city to ease the chronic housing shortage. To date
only some 10,000 units have been built, so the students have been taken out
of universities in order to speed up the construction of the balance
before major celebrations take place in April 2012 to commemorate the 100th
birthday of the founder of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung."
Universities are not closed as lecturers and postgraduate and foreign
students remain on campuses, Hughes said on Thursday.
"The UK has an English language teacher training programme at three
universities in Pyongyang. The mobilisation of the students should not affect
this programme as the majority of activity is focused upon teacher development
and not teaching students."
Charles Armstrong, Director of the Centre for Korea Research at Columbia
University who returned from Pyongyang earlier last week, said he had
visited two state-run universities, Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek
University of Technology in Pyongyang, as well as the private Pyongyang University
of Science and Technology (PUST) in the last few weeks.
At the two public universities the vast majority of students were not
present, Armstrong told University World News. "It is also a very busy time
for rice transplanting and you see a lot of young people in the fields."
However, students were studying as normal at PUST, a postgraduate
institution funded by Korean-American and South Korean philanthropists that
teaches mainly engineering.
"It is very hard to get information in and out of the country and there
may be some confusion because every summer students have to go down to the
fields to help with the rice planting. It is not the first time that I have
heard reports that universities have shut down for a period," Armstrong
"My impression is that there is not a lot going on in terms of teaching
and studying in public universities and student time is taken up with 'extra
curricular' activities including political education. This is a regular
part of university life but I have not heard of the universities being shut
down completely except for a short while during the 1990s [famine]," he
A major famine and economic crisis in the late 1990s meant that much farm
equipment went unused and simply rusted in the fields, so the need for
manual labour has grown. Students and army recruits are mobilised to help,
often having to travel far from where they live.
"My understanding of the university system is that it is largely
dysfunctional. Resources are lacking, many professors spend their time earning from
private tuition - so my impression is that it would not make a great deal
of difference if they are shut down," said Armstrong.
Aidan Foster-Carter, a writer and researcher on North Korea, formerly at
Leeds University in England, said: "North Korea sets great store by these
anniversaries. They decreed a few years ago that 2012 would be their date
for becoming a great and prosperous nation defined in economic terms. It
would make sense having extra persons out there to help with construction,
though normally it is the army that does it."
But any mass use of student labour for longer than the summer vacation
months would mean a trade-off against achieving economic goals that required
educated workers, he said.
"North Korea's is a strange and broken economy but they also need educated
people to pull them out and it would be a major precedent to close the
universities. It could be a sign that they are in a worse mess than we
Hazel Smith, professor of security and resilience at Cranfield University
who also lectures at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung University, said North Korean
universities were operating as usual in and outside the capital when she
was there in May.
She said it would be counterproductive for the regime to close
universities. Despite huge labour shortages throughout the country, the regime is
"fully aware that people need to be taught IT and technology and of course
"They are dependent to fulfill their economic goals on people who are
computer literate and engaged in advanced science. I don't think [closures]
will last very long. There are too many other priorities to deal with."
Analysts in Japan and South Korea suggested there could be other reasons
behind the decision to disperse the students across the country, including
the possibility of demonstrations at campuses inspired by the Arab Spring
uprisings, which began at universities.
They noted that North Korea had purchased anti-riot equipment from China
in recent months, including tear gas and batons, while there has been an
increased police presence at key points in Pyongyang in recent weeks.
Foster-Carter said North Korea watchers have been closely monitoring for
signs of unrest since the spring, but there had not been any.
"The amount of information from the Middle East reaching the ordinary
citizen is very, very limited and there has been nothing at all in the
official media," Armstrong said. "There has been no student unrest that we know of
for the last 50 years."
According to North Korea analysts, party controls are in place to prevent
student uprisings, including political indoctrination and strong
surveillance. Some analysts said surveillance on campuses had relaxed in recent
years because many party officials had not been paid.
However, experts agreed that the possibility of universities being shut
would be an ominous sign of tension. "The most likely reason [to shut
universities down completely] would be for military mobilisation if they thought
they were going to be attacked," Smith said.
_NORTH KOREA: University events raising tensions_
_NORTH KOREA: First international university opens_
_NORTH KOREA: University opens students to the world_
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