Korea | University of Oxford
Bongeunsa Temple in the Gangnam District of Seoul, Korea.
(Image credit: Shutterstock).


Oxford University has long-standing ties to Korea, a country with over a millennium of recorded history, a sophisticated culture, the world’s 15th largest economy, and 13 companies in the Fortune Global 500. Oxford runs an expanding programme in Korean Studies, with three permanent faculty members and an increasing range of courses  on offer to students.

Oxford University Press has an office in Seoul, Korea which is dedicated to ELT (English Language Teaching). As well as producing ELT materials, Oxford University Press Korea supports language teachers in Korea through its teacher training presentations and programmes, including both lectures and workshops on pedagogy. OUP Seoul also offer regular teacher training certificate programmes in addition to providing in-service teacher training, focused discussion workshops, and many other services to promote teacher development in Korea.

The Faculty of Oriental Studies is home to the University’s academic programmes in Korean Studies, focusing on the language and history of Korea. Since the late 1980s, the University has been working to strengthen Korean Studies, partly in recognition of the priority that language-based studies have for leading global universities such as Oxford. The first full time posts in Korean Studies - a University Lectureship in Korean History and a University Instructorship in Korean Language - were established in June 1994 with the generous support of the Korea Foundation. In July 2006, a generous joint endowment from the Korea Foundation and the International Communication Foundation established a permanent post with the name ‘Young Bin Min-Korea Foundation Lectureship in Korean Language and Linguistics’ at the Oriental Institute. (A ‘Lectureship’ at Oxford is a tenured position, and in some cases lecturers have the stature of full professors. These are permanent, full-time posts and are very different from a Korean lecturer’s position). The post is currently held by Dr Jieun Kiaer.

Dr James Lewis, University Lecturer in Korean History, works on Korean and Japanese history from ca.1600 to 1850 and has published extensively on relations between the two countries, focusing on trade and diplomacy. The University's Lecturer in Korean Language and Linguistics, Dr Jieun Kaier, focuses on Korean linguistics - most recently syntactic motivations - and  is also actively engaged in developing textbooks for Korean language and linguistics. Dr Young-hae Chi, Instructor in Korean, previously worked as a military specialist at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. His recent work at Oxford has focused on the interdisciplinary analysis of politics, theology and religion.

Courses in Korean Studies

At undergraduate level, while there is not yet a full degree offered in Korean Studies, students in Chinese or Japanese can prepare for individual examinations in Korean language or Korean history allowing them to graduate with degrees in ‘Chinese with Korean’ or ‘Japanese with Korean’.

Undergraduate interest in Korean and Korean Studies is on the increase, and the Faculty of Oriental Studies is working towards the establishment of a full undergraduate degree in Korean Studies. In 1995, the University launched its postgraduate MSt in Korean Studies, which aims to build students' Korean language skills and to familiarise students with many of the most important classical texts from all periods of Korean history. The course also acquaints students with the major concerns and problems of contemporary Korean linguistics. Students also develop their ability to understand and use a range of classical references and historiographical research methods.

Students in Korean Studies have access to teaching in Korean history, language (both Middle Korean and Modern Korean) and linguistics (both of Korean and comparatively with other East Asian languages). The Faculty of Oriental Studies also offers a DPhil in Oriental Studies through which researchers can focus on Korea.

Korea-Focused Research

Across many departments of the University, academics, researchers and scholars find Korea to be a rich subject for their research.

In the Oxford Institute of Ageing, a number of DPhil students are conducting cutting edge research into the implications of the ageing population in Korea. In May 2012, one of these students, Seung-Min Park, was awarded a prize by the Korean gerontological Society,''The Outstanding Doctoral Thesis for the Geoson Scholarship', for his doctoral thesis. Park's research and thesis examined 'An Ageing Population in a Family and Welfare State: The Dynamics of Family Support and Public Pension Systems and Their Impact on Late-Life Happiness in Contemporary South Korea'. He was also selected as ‘The Best Student Researcher’ by the Brain Korea 21st Century (BK 21) Research Committee at Korea University, Seoul, in March 2012.

Professor David Coleman, Professor of Demography at the Oxford Centre for Population Research, has been studying Korean demographics and has issued advice on the impending demographic shift of swiftly contracting birth rates alongside an ageing population.

Researchers in both the International Migration Institute and the Refugee Studies Centre are currently working on analyses of migration dynamics in Korea, including labour migration and refugee flows.

Professor Stein Ringen, Professor of Sociology and Social Policy, has recently co-authored a book entitled ‘The Korean State and Social Policy: How South Korea Lifted Itself from Poverty and Dictatorship to Affluence and Democracy’. His co-authors included Taekyoon Kim, Professor of Public Policy at Ewha Womans University; Huck-Ju Kwon, Professor at the Graduate School of Public Administration, Seoul National University; and Jooha Lee,  Professor of Public Administration at Dongguk University.

Libraries and Museums

Bodleian Library

The Bodleian holds an extensive range of rare and ancient Korean resources in its collections. These include two titles which are included on the ‘100 Hangul Heritage’ list, in addition to rare antiquarian printed books, manuscripts, imperial publications, fine portrait albums, and a painted scroll of the funeral procession of King Yŏngjo.

The first arrivals of Korean materials at the Bodleian were a group of books from the New Testament translated in the 1880s into the native Korean script, han’gŭl, by John Ross. Many of the other rare and important Korean books and manuscripts were donated to the Library by Bishop Trollope, who first went to Korea in 1890, less than ten years after Korea was opened to the West. The donation included two manuscripts, one of which is a painted representation of the funeral of Queen Dowager Chô in 1890 (Yŏngjo kukchang palin panch’ado), and a small number of eighteenth and nineteenth century printed Korean texts given in 1927.

Thanks to Oxford’s strong relationship with Seoul National University (SNU), the Bodleian library now holds even more Korean treasures. In March 2009, Professor Jang Moo Lee, President of SNU, visited the University of Oxford to present a generous donation of 400 books from the Kyujanggak Archive, the royal library of the Joseon Dynasty, which is currently maintained by the Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies at SNU.

In March 2012, the Bodleian Libraries were offered the project “Window on Korea” by the National Library of Korea.  The project will provide the Bodleian Libraries with up to 4000 volumes in the first year (2012) and 200 volumes annually for the next five years (2013 – 2017).  In addition, the National Library of Korea will also provide funding to help create a Korean library with an audio-visual room within Oxford’s Oriental Institute Library.

The “Window on Korea” project thus expands Oxford’s collection of printed materials in Korean, as well as bringing all necessary Korean materials (reference, newspapers, teaching, audio visual and research materials) into one location at the Oriental Institute. The opening ceremony is expected to take place in June 2013.

See also

Oxford University has formal partnership and collaboration agreements with a number of key academic institutions in Korea including Yonsei University, Seoul National University and Korea University. In May 2006 the President of Korea Research Institute of Bioscience & Biotechnology (KRIBB) visited Oxford to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to support research projects between KRIBB and Oxford researchers in areas of mutual interest in bionanoscience. This MOU made Oxford part of KRIBB’s international collaboration with over 12 countries.

Oxford has also hosted frequent visits from partners in Korea. Over the past 5 years, Oxford has welcomed Professor Chang D Yoo, Associate Vice President of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST); the President of Korea University; Ambassador Yim, head of the Korea Foundation; and the President of Yonsei University, among others. In November 2012, the University enjoyed a visit from Suk-Hwan Park, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea.

Oxford academics collaborate with their Korean counterparts on a range of projects in the humanities, sciences and medicine, of which a few examples can be found below.

Collaborations in Electronic Engineering

In May 2012, the Department of Engineering Science hosted a special visit by Dr Chang-Gyu Hwang, the National Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Head of the Office of Strategic R & D Planning in the Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy. Dr Hwang was previously President and CEO of Samsung Electronics. It is hoped that Dr Hwang’s visit to Oxford will mark the start of a long term partnership with the University, facilitated by Professor Jong Min Kim who, after 17 years as Senior Vice-President of Samsung Electronics, was recently appointed as the new Chair of Electrical Engineering with the Department of Engineering Science.

As well as broad collaboration between institutions and departments, individual researchers at Oxford have been working on individual research projects with colleagues in South Korea. These take place across the breadth of the University’s departments.

The Glycobiology Institute has joined forces with the Scripps-Korea Antibody Institute (SKAI) to develop therapeutic antibodies to help fight cancer. The research will focus on generating antibodies to tackle carbohydrate structures found on cancer cells but not on healthy cells. The aim is to improve the antibodies’ natural ability to kill cancerous cells.

Nanotechnology: An international team of researchers including scientists from Oxford University and Korea University, as well as others, have discovered a new way of splitting layered materials, similar to graphite, into sheets of material just one atom thick. These  'nanosheets' can be made from a range of materials using mild ultrasonic pulses via a new method that is simple, fast, and inexpensive, and could be scaled up to work on an industrial scale. This could lead to revolutionary new electronic and energy storage technologies.

Biochemistry: Professor Anthony Watts in the Department of Biochemistry has collaborated over a decade with scientists at Hannam University and at KRIBB, where he has also acted as international adviser. Professor Watts also held the post of Distinguished Professor at Kyun-Won University, Seoul, Korea in 2004.

Astrophysics: Oxford astrophysicists have worked in collaboration with Yonsei University in Seoul and the department hosts a number of their graduate students. A joint Oxford-Korea research team won the Royal Astronomical Society 'Group Achievement Award for Astrophysics" in 2013.

CIONS is a non-profit organization composed of  Korean Science and Engineering students and researchers affiliated with the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, the University of Oxford, and the SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit) at the University of Sussex. The aim of CIONS is to build an academic network among these four universities, as well as to strengthen the relationship among them. CIONS has organised regular academic conferences every four months, and has invited Korean researchers from each university to deliver presentations to discuss their innovative research topics. The 13th CIONS conference was held at the University of Oxford in June 2012.


There are over 140 Korean students currently studying at Oxford, making Korea the seventh largest source of non-European students for the University. The Social Sciences are the most popular courses among Korean students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, followed closely by the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences. For Korean students at Oxford looking for support networks, the student-led Oxford University Korea Society provides a focal point for social and cultural activities. The Society was founded in 1986 by a number of enthusiastic and pioneering students seeking to encourage lively interactions among the Korean population in Oxford and to promote Korea as a nation of both transition and tradition worldwide. Since then, the Society has expanded its membership with an ever-increasing number of students, visiting professors and researchers alike, and has firmly established itself as a representative body of Korean residents in Oxford.

Oxford University Korea Society

The University of London and Oxford University Korea Society (ULKS) is the largest Korean student organisation in the United Kingdom, and is made up of the Korea Societies from within the various Universities of London and at Oxford. Formed over a decade ago, ULKS aims to create a backbone of support both for those Korean students who have come to the UK as international students, and for Koreans who have grown up in the UK but wish to keep in touch with their cultural heritage. ULKS is also one of the key points of contact between the Korean and Non-Korean communities, aiming to create a public forum where Koreans and Non-Koreans can meet, thus promoting better cultural understanding and exchange.


Oxford has 13 members of Korean staff on its faculty. These academics and researchers are found in all of the University’s divisions, although most are in the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division, particularly in Chemistry and Computer Science.

Dr Jieun Kiaer

Dr Jieun Kiaer is Young Bin Min-KF University Lecturer in Korean Language and Linguistics at the Oriental Institute. Her teaching and research interests include semantics, syntax, Korean Grammar for Modern and Middle Korean, Korean-Japanese Comparative/Contrastive linguistics, East Asian Linguistics and their contribution to General Linguistics and Historical Linguistics and Literature in Korea and Japan.

Dr Hongseok Yang

Dr Hongseok Yang is University Lecturer and EPSRC Advanced Research Fellow in Computer Science. His research interests include programme verification techniques, both manual and automatic, especially techniques for heap and concurrency and the semantics of stateful programming. He has been programme chair for an extensive number of international conferences on computing and programming.

Dr Yang studied for his BSc in Computer Science with Mathematics at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Korea before being awarded his PhD in Computer Science from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA.


Distinguished Korean alumni involved in politics and government include:

  • Dr Hak-Gyu Son, former governor of Gyeonggi-do, former member of the National Assemblyof the Republic of Korea, and Presidential candidate in 2012.
  • Dr Jin Park, President of the Korea-UK Forum for the Future and former Member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea for the Grand National Party.

A number of Korean alumni are prominent in business and economics, including:

  • Dr Myungju Choi, former CEO of GK Partners, former President of the Oxford Alumni Association, and memberof the Presidential Commission on Policy Planning, he is concurrently CEO and President of Kyobo Securities and CEO and President of POSTECH Venture Capital Corporation.

Oxford Korean alumni in academia include:

  • Dr Ok-Pyo Moon, Professor of Anthropology and former Dean of the Graduate School, Academy of Korean Studies.
  • Dr Kyong-Soo Lho, Professor of Politics and former Dean of the Office of International Affairs, Seoul National University.
  • Dr T.Y. Seong, Professor of Nanophotonics, Korea University, and Director of the Optoelectronics Materials and Device Laboratory at Korea University.

For Oxford alumni of all nationalities living in Korea, the Korean Oxford Alumni Society in Seoul is a focal point.