Consult Compendium

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Republic of Korea

Last updated in 2020

Chapter 1: Higher Education System

Section 1.1.: Schematic Description of the Higher Education System

Korean National Education System

Source: Korean Ministry of Education


Section 1.2: Description of Higher Education System

According to the Korean Higher Education Act (2014), higher education institutions in Korea are classified into seven categoriesUniversities, Industrial Universities, Universities of Education, Colleges and Technical Institutes, Open Universities and Cyber Universities, Technology Institutes, and Miscellaneous Colleges.

The major higher education providers are Universities, and Colleges and Technical Institutes. “Universities” refers to general four-year universities, a specific type of general HEI. Universities provide bachelor’s degree and postgraduate studies programsColleges and Technical Institutes (CTIs) provide two- or three-year programs and are intended to cultivate the technical workforce. CTIs are often called “Junior Colleges”, and the primary function of CTIs is to prepare young students for the workforce in specific industrial areas. Students who graduate from CTIs are awarded a junior college diploma or associates degree.

Other HEIs have limited functions in Korean higher education. Industrial universities are four-year institutions intended for training industrial personnel. Universities of Education are exclusively for training elementary school teachers, while secondary school teachers are mainly trained in the College of Education in general universities. The open universities and cyber universities contribute to the development of lifelong education and provide opportunities for distance learning through information and communication media. A technology institute, which provides two-year programs yet award professional bachelor’s degrees, is intended to provide professionals with theory and practical abilities by allowing industrial workers to advance their education.

HEIs have different educational courses based on the education qualification system.
The below explain typical time lengths of study for full time students for higher education degrees including ABA. BA, MA, MS. ME, and Ph.D.

  1. Junior College Diploma/Associates Degree
    • Two- to three-year courses taken at junior colleges, intended to produce mid-level technicians and technologists
    • Designed in conjunction with industrial need
  2. Degree Level
  • Bachelor’s degree: four to six years, depending on the subject area; undergraduate programs
  • Master’s degree: typically two years, accumulating a minimum of 24 credits, up to a possible 36.
  • Graduate Schools are categorized into 3, General Graduate Schools, Professional Graduate Schools, Special Graduate Schools. General Graduate schools are to train academic professionals. The Professional Graduate Schools are to train professionals in specific fields, (law schools and medical schools). The Special Graduate Schools serves the purpose of LLL for those whom work during the day.
  • The followings are some examples of Master degrees off
    • MA (Master of Art): Humanities & Social Sciences
    • MA (Master of Architecture)
    • MSc.(Master of Science): Natural & Applied Sciences, (sometimes Engineering fields ae inculded)
    • MBA (Master of Business Administration)
    • JD (Juris Doctor): Specialized graduate pograms for Law, typically require 90 credits or above for graduation.
  • Doctoral degree: minimum of two years; 36 credits


Section 1.3: Number of Higher Education Institutions

Higher education institutions in total: 430 (2019)

  • General universities: 191
  • Junior colleges: 137
  • Universities of education: 10
  • Cyber universities: 19
  • Technical colleges: 1
  • Polytechnic colleges: 9


Section 1.4 Number of Students in Higher Education

General number of students: 6,785,921 (2019)

Number of students divided by type of degree

  • Diploma: 375,409
  • Bachelor’s degree: 2,315,279
  • Master’s degree: 319,240
  • Doctorate: 75,942

Number of students divided by type of institution

  • Autonomous universities: 25,535
  • Public universities: 730,215
  • Private universities/colleges: 1,539,706
  • Junior colleges: 631,184


Section 1.5: Structure of Academic Year

The school year is usually from March 1 until the last day of February of the next year. There are two or more semesters in each school year, and the number of school days in a school is to be at least 30 weeks in each school year.


Section 1.6: National Qualifications Framework (or Similar)

Associate Degree/Junior College Diploma

  • These are two- to three-year courses taken at junior colleges, intended to produce mid-level technicians and technologists.
  • Programs are available in a wide range of subjects, including humanities and social studies, natural sciences, engineering, arts and physical education and medical health studies.
  • Courses are designed in conjunction with the needs of industry and training is often offered in cooperation with industry.
  • Practical work is completed through on-site training in school-industry cooperative programs as well as in internships and specialty training programs.
  • Training also includes work ethics and preparation for National Technical Certificate Examinations. Upon successful completion students receive an Associate Degree.

Bachelor Degrees

  • Universities offer undergraduate programs lasting four to six years depending on the subject area.
  • Bachelor degrees are broadly focused on the liberal arts, although this component reduces year-on-year as the course progresses.
  • The credit system is used for marking degree courses, and most courses require 140 credit hours, including at least 35 in the major.

Postgraduate Studies

These are taken at graduate schools, which are generally part of research-oriented universities, although some institutions also offer postgraduate (“graduate”) study.

  • Admission is based on the Bachelor’s degree and an entrance examination. Graduate studies require students to pass a foreign language test and comprehensive graduation examination.
  • Master’s degree: Master’s courses generally take two years, accumulating a minimum of 24 credits, up to a possible 36. MBAs may take three and a half years to be completed, if studied on a part-time basis. Master’s degrees require both coursework and the submission of a thesis. The level of research is defined at institutional discretion.
  • Doctoral studies: Doctorate courses take a minimum of two years, representing 36 credits. Doctoral students are required to submit a thesis and defend it orally. Integrated Master’s and PhD programs are also available and can be taken over four years.


Section 1.7: Learning Outcomes in Higher Education

The purpose of universities and colleges is to develop students’ personalities and teach and research the profound theories of science and arts necessary for the development of the nation and human society (Article 28 of the Higher Education Act). Expected learning outcomes are defined by individual institution based on its mission statements and educational objectives.

Learning Outcomes
Colleges and graduate schools for education and research in various domains of knowledge
Junior College
Teach and research professional knowledge and theory about distinct fields of society, enhance skills necessary for the improvement of the state, and train professional personnel
University of Education
Educate teachers for elementary, middle, and high schools
Industrial University
Educate professionals and/or take on research for the improvement of skills essential for the industrial sectors; train industrial manpower and offer higher education opportunities to individuals who want to pursue education
Cyber University
(Distance University)
Use computers and/or ICT for teaching, academic activities, and management of academics through distant learning
Air & Correspondence University
Provide new university opportunities by air and correspondence to individuals who did not have educational opportunities to complete university courses and/or those who want to pursue post-university education for self-improvement and growth
Technical College
Provide university education for workers employed in industries, train necessary professional personnel with theory and practical business abilities for the needs of industries. These programs can be completed in fewer than three years, and thus differ from four-year industrial universities
Intra-company University
Established by an industry for employees. Based on the Lifelong Education Act, graduates of authorized intra-company universities can obtain a bachelor’s degree or a professional license
Polytechnic University
Educate school drop-outs, highly educated unemployed personnel, laid-off individuals and so forth based on the Workers Vocational Skills Development Act. It trains skilled workers, multi-task technicians, master craftsmen, and so on for the national industry and newly established industrial fields


Section 1.8: Admission Requirements to Higher Education

Higher education is provided to high school graduates or individuals with equivalent academic abilities approved by relevant laws in Korea, and a bachelor’s degree or a professional license is conferred to those who complete the curriculum.

  • Students who apply for universities need a high school diploma and required documents including transcripts of high school records and a CSAT (College Scholastic Ability Test) score. University admission screening procedures include high school records screening, comprehensive school records screening, essay screening, performance screening (including special ability screening), and CSAT screening; the ratio of each of the screening types, screening methods, and screening process is decided by the university.
  • Students who apply for graduate programs must hold a bachelor’s degree or those who have been recognized as having equivalent or higher academic background.
  • International students who apply for Korean universities (any academic programs) need to provide official documents for their language abilities such as below:
    • TOPIK: students with 3rd degree or higher level will be admitted, but are rquired to get the 4th (min.) to graduate
    • Students with 2nd degree of the TOPIK should receive Korean language classes for more thank 250 hours within a year after being admittted.
    • For students who will study in programs offered in English, certified Egnlish language test score will be required: eg. TOEFL : 550 (210 for CBT), Ibt 80, IELTS 5.5, TEPS 550
    • Language requirements for admission & graduation may be mitiagated to students who are admitted to/enrolled in the programs or departments as: exchange, government invited, sponcered by governments, Arts, Music, and Sports, graduate students in Science and Engineering fileds, Bi-lingual tracks.
      (as of 2017. Feb.)


Section 1.9: Grading System

Korean higher education uses a letter grading system in both undergraduate and graduate programs. Two or more tests, including mid-term and final examinations, are given during the examination schedule each semester.

Grade point
Good or above average
Fair or average
Inferior Pass


Section 1.10: Tuition Fee System for International Students

Tuition fees vary according to the type of institutions and major. For instance, national universities have lower tuition fees than private universities.

  • Associate Degree: 1,500 – 7,300 USD/semester
  • Undergraduate Degree: 1,600 – 10,800 USD/semester
  • Graduate Degree: 1,100 – 10,600 USD/semester


Section 1.11: Graduation Requirements and/or Qualification Awarding Requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree: 140 credits, including at least 35 major credits and other requirements depending on the university
  • Master’s degree: coursework and the submission of a thesis and other requirements depending on the programs
  • Doctorate degree: submit a thesis and defend it orally and other requirements depending on the programs


Section 1.12: Relevant Current and Prospective Reforms in Higher Education

The current government’s policy on structural reform of higher education is based on “expanding the public nature of higher education” as a key principle.
Detailed reform policies are: (1) fostering the Major National Universities to develop into prominent universities; (2) transforming and fostering “publicized private universities”; (3) supporting national and public colleges and publicized private colleges; (4) supporting small- and medium-sized universities at the regional level; and (5) easing the university hierarchy and strengthening the competitiveness of universities through the establishment of a network, such as the joint operation system of national and public universities in the mid- to long-term.



Chapter 2: Quality Assurance in Higher Education

Section 2.1: Quality Assurance Body in Higher Education

There are several accreditation authorities in the Republic of Korea. For institutional accreditation, the Korean University Accreditation Institute (KUAI), which is the affiliated agency of the Korean Council for University Education (KCUE), is the accreditation agency for four-year universities, and the Korean Council for College Education (KCCE) is for junior colleges. The purpose of institutional accreditation is to determine whether universities satisfy basic requirements as educational institutions and to provide public confidence by publishing the results of accreditation.


Section 2.2: Quality Assurance System

The institutional accreditation procedure typically comprises a review of application dossiers, reports, a site visit, and decision making.

Submission of an accreditation application and selection of the subject institution

  • The subject institutions should submit an application form 6 months before the off-site documentary review.
  • The Korean University Accreditation Institute (KUAI) reviews the application forms. If a subject institution meets the all 6 criteria, including the rate of full-time faculty and students filling, the institution will be selected as the institution for accreditation evaluation.

Off-site documentary review and site visit

  • The off-site documentary review is to determine whether the university meets the minimum standards of an educational institution based on its self-assessment report, and to point out any additional matters to be examined during the site visit.
  • During the site visit, the University Evaluation Committee verifies data and information that the university has presented, visits university facilities, and interviews the staff members who participate in the self-evaluation at all levels, including the president, professors, staff, and students.

Result verification

  • Result verification compares results in order to ensure the consistency within the evaluation group and between the committee members. All members of the University Evaluation Committee are to confirm the evaluation result (to point out the areas for adjustment of evaluation results) and to review the criteria and, if warranted, to adjust decisions.

Publishing accreditation results

  • The Institutional Accreditation Committee decides if the university is granted with either “Fully Accredited: “Provisionally Accredited”, “Accredited Deferral”, or “Not Accredited” status.
  • The Institutional Accreditation Committee shall confirm accreditation of universities based on the Evaluation Report provided by the University Evaluation Committee.


As for program accreditation, the MOE recognizes different agencies for each professional field. All quality assurance related organizations are required to apply for and gain recognition from the Ministry of Education (MOE) to conduct institutional or program accreditation.

Recognized Accrediting Agencies
Korean Accreditation Board of Nursing Education(KABONE)
Nursing Education
The Korea Architectural Accrediting Board (KAAB)
Architectural Education
Accrediting Board for Engineering Education of Korea (ABEEK)
Engineering Education
Korean Association of Business Education Accreditation
Business Education
Korean Institute of Medical Education and Evaluation
Medical Education
Korean Institute of Dental Education and Evaluation
Dental Education
Institute of Korean Medicine Education and Evaluation
Korean Medicine Education
Korea Trade Education Accreditation (KTEA)
Trade Education
Korean Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (KACPE)
Pharmacy Education


Chapter 3: Credit System in Higher Education

Section 3.1: Description of Credit System

Most bachelor programs require 140 creditsincluding 35 credits in the majorMaster’s programs require two or more years of study and 24 academic credits in general, while Doctoral programs require three or more years of study and 36 credits. These are typical requirements degree programs, but specific requirements for individual degree programs are various, and minimum required credits, conditions for graduations are set at the departmental and institutional levels.

  • 1 subject/course normally have value of 3 credits at the graduate level, but more various credit values are counted for a course for undergraduate study.
  • 1 credit can be earned after at least 15 or more class hours
  • Typical full time students take 9-12 credits, but 15-21 credits per semester can be taken.

The minimum credit requirement for earning a degree is established by the individual institution’s academic regulations


Section 3.2: Credit Transfer System(s)

Credit transfer is decided by HE institutions, students may be deemed to have earned credits at relevant schools, as prescribed by school regulations. For students who may want course waiver, or credit transfer, need to contact the university.


Section 3.3: Additional Information

Not applicable.


Section 3.4: Application of Credit System in Higher Education Institutions Obligatory?

Credits can be transferred according to MoA between local universities. Credit transfer between a local university and a foreign university depends on the MoA between the two universities.


Section 3.5: Number of Credits per Academic Year/Semester

The minimum credit requirement for earning a degree is established by the individual institution’s academic regulations.

Most bachelor programs require 140 credits, including 35 credits in the major. Master’s programs require two or more years of study and 24 academic credits in general, while Doctoral programs require three or more years of study and 36 credits. These are typical requirements degree programs, but specific requirements for individual degree programs are various, and minimum required credits, conditions for graduations are determined at the departmental and institutional levels.

  • 1 subject/course normally have value of 3 credits at the graduate level, but more various credit values are counted for a course for undergraduate study.
  • 1 credit can be earned after at least 15 or more class hours
  • Typical full time students take 9-12 credits, but 15-21 credits per semester can be taken.

The minimum credit requirement for earning a degree is determined by the individual institution’s academic regulations


Section 3.6: Number of Credits per Higher Education Cycle

Number of credits per higher education cycle is established by the individual institution’s academic regulations.

Qualification Framework at the national level is not applicable.


Section 3.7: Description of Credit Unit

1 credit can be earned after at least 15 or more class hours.


A university has the right to set the credit. Link between learning outcomes and credit is prescribed by individual institution’s academic regulations.



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