Higher Education in North Korea

Institutions of higher education include colleges and universities; teachers' training colleges, with a four-year course for preparing kindergarten, primary, and secondary instructors; colleges of advanced technology with two or three-year courses; medical schools with six-year courses; special colleges for science and engineering, art, music, and foreign languages; and military colleges and academies. Kim Il Sung's report to the Sixth Party Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea in October 1980 revealed that there were 170 "higher learning institutions" and 480 "higher specialized schools" that year.

In 1987 there were 220,000 students attending two- or three-year higher specialized schools and 301,000 students attending four- to six-year colleges and university courses. According to Eberstadt and Banister, 13.7 percent of the population sixteen years of age or older was attending, or had graduated from, institutions of higher education in 1987-88. In 1988 the regime surpassed its target of producing "an army of 1.3 million intellectuals," graduates of higher education, a major step in the direction of achieving the often-stated goal of "intellectualization of the whole society."

Every university in North Korea has to receive certain percentage (twenty to thirty) of discharged soldiers (served longer than three years) or workers (employed longer than five years).

Kim Il Sung University, founded in October 1946, is the country's only comprehensive institution of higher education offering bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Its enrollment of 16,000 full- and part-time students in the early 1990s occupies, in the words of one observer, the "pinnacle of the North Korean educational and social system." Competition for admission is intense.

According to a Korean-American scholar who visited the university in the early 1980s, only one student is admitted out of every five or six applicants. An important criterion for admission is senior middle school grades, although political criteria are also major factors in selection. A person wishing to gain acceptance to any institution of higher education has to be nominated by the local "college recommendation committee" before approval by county- and provincial-level committees.

Kim Il-Sung University's colleges and faculties include economics, history, philosophy, law, foreign languages and literature, geography, physics, mathematics, chemistry, nuclear power, biology, and computer science. There are about 3,000 faculty members, including teaching and research staff. All facilities are located on a modern, high-rise campus in the northern part of P'yongyang.

Other notable universities include Kim Chaek University of Technology and the University of Natural Science, which focuses on computer science and natural science related to mass nuclear research. Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies, trains working level diplomats and trade officials, and Kim Hyong Jik University trains teachers.

Choson Exchange, a non-profit organization founded by Harvard, Yale, Wharton School and Singaporean graduate students, also runs consulting and training programs in Finance, Business and Economics with Kim Il Sung University and the State Development Bank in North Korea. Their programs target North Koreans under the age of 40 and combine OpenCourseWare materials and on-site lectures to deliver year-round training.

Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), which opened in 2010, is the country's only joint venture institute of higher learning, founded, funded and operated by Evangelical Church groups and people from both North and South Korea, as well as China and the USA. It plans to recruit around 200 Master and PhD level students annually, from both Koreas, and with half of faculty hired from universities and research institutes abroad. At this university, courses will be taught in Korean and English. In addition, the Pyongyang Business School offers short courses given by foreign lecturers. It was founded by the Swiss government and helps teach students business management. Another economic educational institution is the Centre for the Study of the Capitalist System, established in 2000.

The remote universities obtained media attention while encrypting lesson plans and communicating them by a method of a radio broadcasting in 2016.