Incheon National University finally settles into its role

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Park Jong-tae, President of Incheon National University [INCHEON NATIONAL UNIVERSITY]

When Park Jong-tae was named president of Incheon National University (INU) in May 2021, he recalled the school being “unstable”. It was a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, but no one seemed to know how to weather the storm.

Looking back, it was those difficult circumstances and uncertainty that instilled greater responsibility in him, Park recently told Korea JoongAng Daily in an email interview.

During the conversation, Park, the third president to take office at INU, spoke about how the university is striving to leapfrog and bring about change in local society and beyond.

Here are excerpts from the interview, edited and condensed for clarity.

How has the past year been as President of the INU?

I tried to focus on stabilizing the unstable atmosphere I felt on campus when I started my term, using that as momentum to get things done. When I became president, I promised to work like an orchestra conductor – to mediate between different opinions and maximize capacity. I am proud to say that the school has made great achievements over the past year, which gives me even more responsibility to do better in the future.

What did you manage to accomplish?

We have reformed our academic programs to allow our students to study more advanced courses in their majors, encourage them to earn multiple degrees, and continue their studies in graduate studies. We have also created a virtual classroom to intensify efforts to establish a virtual campus in the metaverse, and building on this, we plan to design a metaverse studio and lab to experiment with different content. We have also tried to strengthen the research capabilities of our laboratories by designing a step-by-step development strategy for each facility and helping them put these strategies into practice. As a first step towards creating a research-oriented university, we have increased the number of students enrolled in our graduate school and invited more researchers. By December 2023, we plan to complete construction of a complex that will hopefully stimulate research and development on campus. By mid-June, a second library will open. Development plans for our Jemulpo campus are also in preparation. Apart from that, INU received about 63.8 billion won [$50.5 million] external financial resources through the Government Financial Support Project, and last year we were designated as a General Financial Support University through the Government University Core Competency Assessment, which enabled us to receive approximately 15.3 billion won until 2024. Additionally, we came 26th in the 2021 Real Impact World University Ranking System and 20th among Korean universities in the World University Rankings 2022 from Times Higher Education. Last April, we won the Grand Prize among Korean National Universities in a brand evaluation ranking organized by New York Festivals and a local media.

The INU seems really invested in its growth alongside the local community.

In principle, universities should play a key role in education, research and industrial collaboration, but at the same time we should never neglect the essential role of contributing to the growth of the local community. INU received so much support from the citizens of Incheon when we changed from a private university to a city-supported university to a national university. Now it’s time for us to give back.

Where are the efforts to create a faculty of medicine?

Over 142,000 people have signed our petition for the goal and we are discussing the plan with [Incheon’s] Yeonsu District Office. Amid the growing importance of public health care in preparing for new infectious disease risks, it is pertinent that we eliminate any possible medical vacuum that may emerge from a weak public health infrastructure, a key reason why the ‘INU hopes to build a medical school. We hope to rally public support for this.

What are your plans for the remaining three years of your term?

During the remainder of my time as President of INU, I hope to build a research-based university system. Among Seoul National University and five other major national universities in Korea, INU ranks third in the average number of publications in international academic journals per full-time faculty member. Yet most of these publications are individual research. I hope to increase group research projects and design a sustainable research system so that we can improve our chances of winning major research project contracts from the government or corporate sector. Another initiative that I look forward to is the creation of a department focused on advanced technology or another specialized area, and that this department represents the INU. On the Jemulpo campus, the school will solicit the opinion of the inhabitants and draw up a development plan that will allow us to coexist with them in harmony. INU is a national university located in the Seoul metropolitan area. It is a dynamic university with a young faculty, a university with high growth potential and many talents capable of creating future profits. Ultimately, I want to take INU to the next level, creating a university that everyone admires.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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