My research focuses on the intersection of higher education reform and student mobility. I take a structural approach to mobility by analyzing the political and economic conditions in which the movement of students operates. My work also adopts a comparative perspective in analyzing higher education policies in the United States and East Asia that shape the flow of students. More than just a comparatist, however, I am a critical social scientist who deconstructs the often messy intersections across governmental, organizational, and individual behavior. I pay special attention to how state policies and institutional reforms create and shape new and unexpected pathways of student mobility, which can lead to new discourses of identity, belongingness, and class divisions, a theme that prevails in much of my work in order to advance social justice.

Below are links to my published papers, which are organized along broad themes that I engage in through my research. You can also view them on my and ResearchGate pages.

Internationalization of Higher Education

Kim, S. K. (2018). Illegitimate elites and the politics of belonging at a Korean university. Journal of Korean Studies 23 (1): 175-202.

Universities are undergoing a transformation in which higher learning intersects with a class of cosmopolitan elites. Certainly within South Korea, universities are launching international colleges as a way to position themselves as choice institutions that cater to elite students seeking global opportunities. Yet little work has been done to examine what happens to the students within these spaces of globality and privilege. This article reveals the interconnections between globalizing higher education and the global aspirations of Korean youth by focusing on the students who enter into an international learning space of a Korean university that itself desires global status. Not quite accepted by the other students but still considered an elite group, these individuals have to negotiate complex campus-based norms where the risk of marginalization from key social networks is magnified by the university’s pursuit of global status. Meanwhile, the university transforms into an ideological battleground and a critical site in the construction of social membership in South Korea.

Kim, S. K. (2016). Western faculty ‘flight risk’ at a Korean university and the complexities of internationalisation in Asian higher education. Comparative Education 52 (1): 78-90.

Does the internationalisation of Asian higher education give preference to Western faculty members, especially against the backdrop of internationalisation trends that call for an importation of Western pedagogical practices, ideas, and standards? This article seeks to complicate such a claim through close examination of the Western faculty members who work at a Korean university. In particular, this study reveals the systematic disempowerment of Western faculty members, which eventually leads to Western faculty members’ mass departure from South Korea. The ephemeral and transitional quality of the Western faculty members is what renders them even more helpless and commoditised for the benefit of a Korean university while the institution maintains the façade of internationalisation via the large-scale recruitment of Western faculty members by perpetually replacing those who leave with new recruits. Such a phenomenon exposes complexities within the internationalisation process that have yet to be addressed by scholars of education.

Kim, S. K. (2016). English is for dummies: Linguistic contradictions at an international college in South Korea. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education 46 (1): 116-135.

Under the slogan of internationalisation, Korean universities have opened international colleges as a way to better attract and accommodate foreign students. However, due to a lack of foreign student recruiting capability, the majority of the students who enrol at one such international college are not foreign, but Korean. Contradictions arise when the English-language medium enforced by the foreign faculty members of the college conflicts with the linguistic practices of the mostly Korean student body. This article uses an international college in South Korea as a case study for the examination of the role of English on student life at Asian universities pursuing internationalisation strategies via the recruitment of foreign faculty members. Paradoxically, by establishing an international college that aggressively enforces the English language medium, the Korean university has created an environment where students avoid using English at all.

Kim, S. K. (2015). Redefining internationalization: Reverse student mobility in South Korea. In C. S. Collins & D. E. Neubauer (eds.), Redefining Asia Pacific Higher Education in Contexts of Globalization: Private Markets and the Public Good (pp. 41-56). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

This chapter argues that internationalization can be conceptualized as the competitive strategies that a higher education institution takes in order to retain domestic students who would otherwise study abroad—what I call “reverse student mobility”—that redefines how we understand internationalization as predominantly concerned with a search for foreign students. Through close examination of a university in South Korea, I show how a campus setting intended for foreign students actually functions as a way to attract and accommodate domestic students who would otherwise study abroad by exploiting their anxieties over the accumulation of global capital. The implications of “reverse student mobility” are explored both within a South Korean domestic context and a larger Asian regional context.

Higher Education Policy Reforms

Kim, S. K. (2013). Framing the globalisation debate in Korean higher education. In R. Frank, J. E. Hoare, P. Köllner, & S. Pares (eds.), Korea 2013: Politics, Economy and Society (pp. 137-159). Leiden: Brill.

The South Korean government has enacted a series of policy initiatives to recruit more foreign students as a means of generating more income for the country’s universities. These internationalisation policies are a direct response to the phenomenon of global competition that is currently reshaping higher education. The case of South Korea is indicative of what is happening throughout Asia, where competition for student markets has become more pronounced as Asian universities devise incentives and mechanisms for enhancing the inflow of foreign students. By understanding how internationalisation policies arise out of the socio-economic realities of South Korea and create contentious issues in Korean higher education, we will better understand not only the globalisation process in South Korea but also how Korean higher education connects to the larger debates surrounding globalisation.

Kim, S. K., & Yeom, M. (2017). An uncertain future: Leading national universities in South Korea and the Flagship Model. In J. A. Douglass & J. N. Hawkins (eds.), Envisioning the Asian New Flagship University: Its Past and Vital Future (pp. 91-104). Berkeley: Berkeley Public Policy Press.

Though national universities have historically enjoyed a privileged position in the Korean higher education sector, today they face acute challenges as a result of the tensions created by global rankings and the quest for world-class status. This chapter surveys the history of national universities in South Korea, leading up to today. We pay particular attention to the influence of global rankings on the Korean higher education sector, subsequent government policy responses, and the consequences that these policies have had on universities. The uncertain future of national universities is explored against the backdrop of the World Class University narrative and its focus on global rankings, which dominates the Korean higher education sector today. Ultimately, we argue that the future relevance of these institutions may require the adoption of a more flexible approach to excellence that seeks to use the values and practices of the New Flagship University to achieve the global ranking and research productivity of the World Class University.

Globalization & Higher Education

Rust, V. D., & Kim, S. K. (2012). The global competition in higher education. World Studies in Education 13 (1): 5-20.

As globalization has become the focal point of higher education, competition has become a central preoccupation. Competition is closely connected with a global free-market economy. Combined with the impact of globalization and the development of the global “knowledge economy”, these competitive forces have resulted in the global competition phenomenon that is currently reshaping higher education. Many developments characterize global competition in higher education. This article discusses some of these developments, including (1) the rise of global university rankings, (2) declarations by nations to have a world-class university, (3) the development of regional units of control and reform, (4) the development of cross-border quality assessment practices, and (5) the internationalization of universities.

Rust, V. D., & Kim, S. K. (2015). Globalization and global university rankings. In J. Zajda (ed.), Second International Handbook on Globalisation, Education and Policy Research (pp. 167-180). Dordrecht: Springer.

Globalization has been neither neutral nor uniform in its impact. It affects countries, cultures, and systems in different ways—some in positive ways and others in more negative ways. All sectors of society are being affected; and higher education is no exception. The increased importance of the knowledge industry, innovations in information and communication technologies, a stronger orientation to the market economy, and growth in regional and international governance systems all contribute to an accelerated flow of people, ideas, culture, technology, goods, and services in our globalized world. University documents and mission statements indicate the importance of higher education in the global arena. A number of issues link globalization and higher education, including a growing demand for post-secondary education, a growing number and types of “for-profit” sponsors of higher education, and the emergence of innovative cross-border institutions. As globalization has become the focal point of higher education, competition has become a central preoccupation. Competition is closely connected with a global free-market economy. Combined with the impact of globalization and the development of the global “knowledge economy,” these competitive forces have resulted in the global competition phenomenon that is currently reshaping higher education. Many developments characterize global competition in higher education. This paper discusses some of these developments, including (1) the rise of global university rankings, (2) declarations by nations to have a world-class university, (3) the development of regional units of control and reform, (4) the development of cross-border quality assessment practices, and (5) the internationalization of universities.

Rust, V. D., & Kim, S. K. (2016). Globalisation and new developments in global university rankings. In J. Zajda & V. D. Rust (eds.), Globalisation and Higher Education Reforms (pp. 39-47). Cham: Springer.

In the past two decades, higher education has been going through a dramatic change, in large part to meet the dramatic challenge of globalization. A number of theoretical orientations have been devised to explain some of these changes, including intriguing labels such as Academic Capitalism and McDonaldization. These orientations usually give excessive attention to the market as the impetus for driving institutional reform, and the greatest indicator of this change is the growing importance of global university rankings. However, scholars, politicians, and pundits have also generated widespread criticism to rankings, and in response to that criticism, alternative ranking systems have begun to be formulated. This paper explores the growing criticism to established global university rankings and the criteria developed for alternative ranking systems, including the European Commission rankings, the Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan (HEEACT) rankings, and the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities. We ultimately ask whether these new ranking systems are improving the process or adding to the negative attention to rankings.

Multicultural Perspectives in Education

Kim, H., & Kim, S. K. (2019). Global convergence or national identity making? The history textbook controversy in South Korea, 2004-2018. Asia Pacific Journal of Education 39 (2): 252-263.

Previous research has documented a worldwide shift in the teaching of history that looks beyond nation-state based history instruction in favor of a post-national curriculum that imparts knowledge of diverse identities, cultures, and global issues. In South Korea, however, the construction of national identity in history education continues to be a key function of its civilizing mission because of the uncertainty over inclusion of North Korea within South Korea’s calculus of who constitutes Koreans. This article analyzes the domestic politics of history education in South Korea, with particular attention paid to the controversies surrounding the nationalization of history textbooks. In 2015, the administration of President Park Geun-hye announced plans for its own history textbook to “correct” ideological bias in the private history textbook market. Questions of nationhood, ethnicity, and identity took bitter shape in history textbooks, where portrayals over historical events were revised to underscore competing visions of state legitimacy vis-à-vis the global political order. Hence, we highlight that the South Korean textbook controversy not only challenges transnational convergence in history education but questions a conventional understanding of history education as decisively national or global rendered visible by the complicated and fraught histories of East Asian societies.

Kim, S. K., & Kim, L. H. (2012). The need for multicultural education in South Korea. In D. A. Urias (ed.), The Immigration and Education Nexus: A Focus on the Context and Consequences of Schooling (pp. 243-253). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Rapid economic advancements and urbanization since the 1980s has transformed South Korea into a country with high growth rates of immigration from the influx of migrant workers and foreign brides. However, because of South Korea’s long past as a homogenous society, there are few programs to assist in the integration of recent immigrants, and this has major implications for the education and schooling of multicultural children. While some systematic attempts have been made to better integrate multicultural families, these attempts only aim to better assimilate multicultural families to Korean culture. What is lacking is a broader curriculum that aims to teach all Koreans to better understand and appreciate cultural differences. This paper examines current schooling practices in South Korea and the barriers that minority children currently face.