North Korea – an opportunity not to be missed

By Gunnar Westberg, TFF Board

The changes felt in North Korea during my visit there in October 2011 are sensed by others. In a recent issue of Science (Vol. 334, Dec 23 2011, p 1624-1625, ), there is a report from the new Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, PUST, by the scientific journalist Richard Stone.

This institution is founded and supported by evangelical Christians in the USA! More than half the staff of 29 foreign faculty members are from the USA. The teaching is entirely in English. The students have access to Internet, although they have to log the sites they visit. Twenty graduate students will visit universities in China at the end of their studies. Cooperation with the Erasmus university exchange program in Europe is expected.

At this university there are 267 students – all male – from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK. They study such traditional subjects within the area of technology as chemistry and computer programming but also international finance.

The leaders in DPRK do understand that there is a need for scientific exchange with other countries. Five hundred IT specialists from the country have been sent to Europe and hundreds to China in recent years.

The report in Science is really very encouraging. There is apparently backing from the government of DPRK, although with close supervision by a parallel faculty from the Kim Il Sung University.

However, the future development of PUST is uncertain. The building of the university was supported from South Korea, but that support has dwindled as the hard line against North Korea was introduced by the present South Korean Government.

The founding president of the university now has to travel around the world to obtain economic support for the university. There is very little equipment in the university to be used for laboratory studies.

In the present uncertain situation in DPRK after the demise of the Dear Leader we do not know who or what group is going to be the strong force in the country. It is my firm belief that, right now, there may be a chance to open contacts with young people there and show what the rest of the world is like and show that we care.

In short, here is a chance not to be missed. People of DPRK know next to nothing about democracy and about the open society. If a few thousand of the future leaders of the country could come abroad to study, that might be important for the future of both North Korea and our relations.

The PUST University is in a difficult economic situation and the future is uncertain. How unreasonable that, when we spend billions of dollars on military defence against the perceived threat from North Korea, we can not find a few million dollars to make this hugely important investment in the future!

There is plenty of money in EU coffers for such purposes, even in today’s crisis!

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