Korea University campus [Photo by Yonhap]
Korea University announced Monday that it has received a donation of 63 billion won ($48.2 million) from an anonymous donor, the largest donation since its founding and the second-largest single donation to a South Korean university, behind the 76.6 billion won worth of real estate donated to the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in 2020 by Lee Soo-young, chairwoman of Kwang Won Industrial Co. Ltd.
“The donor had a broad understanding of the financial crisis that the university is facing due to the aftermath of Covid-19 and the 15-year-long tuition regulation,” said an official from Korea University. “We understand that the donor decided to make the donation hoping that the university will strive for the development of Korea and humanity.” The university explained that it has decided not to disclose the donor‘s identity in accordance with the donor’s wishes.
Korea University said that in order to secure the donation, it provided details of its projects over a long period of time and received guarantees of support for the construction of a central plaza for the natural science campus, the appointment of an endowed professorship, scholarships for multicultural talent and the Oxford-Yale-Korea University annual forum.
One project that Korea University President Kim Dong-one is particularly focused on is the endowed professorship program. To foster talent in high-tech fields such as artificial intelligence (AI) and semiconductors, the endowed professorship program receives corporate sponsorship and invites young and renowned scholars to conduct research and lectures.
In an interview with Maeil Business Newspaper on May 31, Kim expressed his confidence as the first university in Korea to implement the endowed professorship system in earnest, saying, “In the past, Korea University Business School had implemented the program under the sponsorship of SK Group, but this is the first time we are hiring more than 100 professors as endowed professors.”
“Through this donation, we expect to secure sustainable research competitiveness to lead the future industrial society by inviting a large number of advanced science and technology professors and researchers needed for the entire national industry,” said an official from Korea University. “We are preparing to provide in-depth research activities and educational services to students.”
Kim has been actively pursuing fundraising activities. He believes that financial independence and stability are essential to restoring the university’s leadership. However, with a declining student population and a 14-year tuition freeze, the university could not rely solely on government support. In the end, it saw that goodwill donations were the most realistic option. With the donation, Korea University has gained momentum for pursuing its 120th anniversary celebration in 2025.
In preparation for its 120th anniversary, Korea University is promoting various projects such as securing competitiveness in education and research, fostering next-generation talent, and strengthening campus infrastructure.
In recent years, Korean universities have seen an increase in donations from businessmen and philanthropists. Although the donation culture is still not as active as that of the Ivy League in the U.S., a new culture is slowly being created.
Some of the biggest donors of Korean universities include Lee Soo-young, chairwoman of Kwang Won Industrial, with 76.6 billion won, Lee Jong-hwan, honorary chairman of Samyoung Chemical Co. with 60 billion won and Chung Moon-soul, former chief executive officer of Mirae Corp. with 51.5 billion won. Hanssem Co. Honorary Chairman Cho Chang-geol also founded Taejae University with 300 billion won in private funds.
While donations to universities should be greatly encouraged, the structural and social issues that cause universities to rely so heavily on donations need to be addressed. Some universities are facing severe financial difficulties due to a declining school-age population and a prolonged tuition freeze.
By Lee Ji-ahn and Choi Jieun
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]