Like California, South Korea’s system of higher education is a work in progress. Each must evolve and reshape themselves at various points in their histories in their quest for relevancy and, increasingly, to external pressures and demands of governments and, more generally, society. Utilizing California’s pioneering higher education system as a comparative lens, I provide an outsider’s view of South Korea’s higher education system from two perspectives. First, a national system viewpoint: How is the higher education eco-system organized and managed, and what funding and other incentives are provided by the national government? The second is an institutional viewpoint: What is the academic and management culture of national universities and how might they seek self-improvement and a greater impact on their regional role? In pursuing this analysis, I leverage my knowledge and research related to California’s efforts to build its mass higher education system with institutions of high quality and world prestige as well as aspects of my New Flagship University model that focus on institutional self-improvement and management. Two general observations are offered: First, Korea needs to reorganize its network of public and private tertiary institutions; that includes reducing the number of private institutions, while also improving regional role and impact of its public institutions. Second, a major challenge for Korea, in my view, is to deemphasize the race for rankings and to focus more on the internal management capacity of institutions, and to pursue a more holistic societal role for its universities. The New Flagship University model is one way to examine this issue for Korea.
Keywords: South Korea, California, Multi-Campus Systems, New Flagship University Model