Research

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.

Below are links to select publications, which you can also view on my academia.edu and ResearchGate pages. If you are having trouble accessing any of my publications, feel free to contact me for an electronic copy.


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.

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, 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.