Unsurprisingly, given its status as a world-leading producer of high-tech consumer and industrial products, many of South Korea’s universities specialise in science and technology fields. Other subjects are popular too though, including all major arts, humanities, social science and medical disciplines. South Korea is also keen to develop research into its own local and regional culture and history, with some funding available specifically for this work.
South Korean higher education follows a three-tiered system, similar to that used within the Bologna Process. Undergraduate degrees are followed by Masters and PhD level qualifications, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the length of study at each stage is comparatively long.
A PhD at a South Korean university will typically take a minimum of two to three years, but, depending on previous postgraduate experience in your field, you may require a longer period of enrolment in order to complete the necessary coursework and examination elements before producing a thesis.
Accreditation of South Korean universities is still developing to keep pace with the rapid expansion of its higher education sector. Currently the Korean Council for University Education operates as a private organisation evaluating and accrediting the performance of a large number of member institutions, including most of the country’s top universities.
Higher education institutions in South Korea fall into a number of categories and are further divided into private and public (or "national") institutions. This variety may appear confusing at first, but don’t worry: from your point of view as a prospective PhD student these universities will be primarily distinguished by their specialisms and by their provision in your desired field. Both private and public institutions can award doctorates and are well represented in domestic and international rankings.
The following are some of South Korea’s top internationally ranked institutions, all of which offer a variety of PhD programmes:
- Seoul National University (public) – South Korea’s highest ranked university is located in its capital: the high-tech megacity of Seoul
- Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (public) – KAIST is one of South Korea’s premier science and engineering research universities, located in the central city of Daejon
- Pohang University of Science and Technology (private) – Located on the country’s east coast, Pohang (or POSTECH) specialises in science and technology research, with a large number of professional graduate schools
- Yonsei University (private) – Yonsei is one of Korea’s oldest universities and one of its most prestigious private institutions. It is located in Seoul
- Korea University (private) – Another of South Korea’s oldest institutions, Korea University is also located in Seoul, where it specialises in a large number of research disciplines and offers several dedicated graduate divisions
In recent years Korea’s domestic universities have been joined by a growing number of international campuses established by overseas institutions.
Many of these are hosted at the Incheon Global Campus, which includes branches of:
- The State University of New York (SUNY)
- George Mason University
- Ghent University
- The University of Utah
Take a look at our guide to international campuses for more information on this mode on studying abroad.
South Korea also offers a number of graduate schools, some of which are affiliated with larger universities while others are independent institutions, specialising in specific disciplines at an advanced level.
Some graduate schools are practice-based – focusing on Masters level training – and others are directed towards PhD research. Your choice between a specialist graduate school and a larger university will probably depend on the specific resources and expertise available in your subject area.
South Korean university rankings
Recent years have seen universities in South Korea enjoying increasing levels of success in global university rankings (as well as regional rankings in Asia).