[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.
Kind regards
Aidan FC
(Full disclosure: I am quoted, but - more to the point - so 
are those who reside there, or have very recently  visited.)
Aidan  Foster-Carter 
Honorary Senior Research  Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds 
University, UK 
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  
nuclear [engineering].

"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. 

Related  links

_NORTH  KOREA: University events raising tensions_ 
_NORTH  KOREA: First international university opens_ 
_NORTH  KOREA: University opens students to the world_ 

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