South Korea - Country Commercial Guide
Education Services

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2021-01-15

Capital:  Seoul

Population:  51,849,800 (2020 est.)

GDP:  $1.6 trillion (nominal, 2020 est.)
Currency:  South Korean won (KRW)

Language:  Korean

UNESCO Student Mobility Number
Korea has 101,774 students studying abroad according to UNESCO.

CIA World Factbook:
24% of the Korean population is under 24 years of age.

OVERVIEW   

In South Korea, education is a high priority for Korean families.  Success in education is important culturally and seen as important as a pathway to greater achievements.  Korea represents the third largest source of foreign students matriculating at U.S. universities, comprising five percent of total international students in the U.S.  The Open Doors Report from the Institute of International Education (IIE) indicates that a total of 48,809 Korean students were enrolled in U.S. institutions for academic year 2019-2020. On a per capita basis, Korea sends the second-most students to the U.S. from Asia.  The fields of study of Korean students in the U.S. have now become more diversified; currently, 25% of Korean students are seeking STEM majors, while 14% are studying engineering, 13% are studying business management, 12% are studying fine and applied arts, and 11% are studying social studies in the U.S.

A degree from a well-known institution is a status symbol in Korea and essential to finding the “right job at the right company.”  Coveted spaces in Korea’s top schools are open to competition from all students, but attainable by only a few.  Many talented students instead opt for the best schools outside of the country and obtain a diploma from an accredited overseas school.  Although Korean students with U.S. degrees no longer can enjoy the same advantages in the job market as they did a decade ago, English language skills, internship experience, vocational training, or a degree from a mid-ranked state university in the U.S. is seen as providing a competitive advantage to secure full-time employment.  This translates into opportunities for U.S. schools to recruit some of Korea’s most talented students.  Koreans remain willing to spend a substantial portion of their income on education.

While this market is very attractive to a wide swath of U.S. education service providers, it has become, over the last few years, an increasingly challenging market.  The number of Korean students studying in the U.S. has trended slightly downward in each of the last five years.  While the U.S. remains by far one of the most preferred overseas destinations, especially for undergraduate studies, fewer Korean students are going to the U.S. because there are simply fewer younger people and partially because of the rising number international schools in Korea attracting students who otherwise might have gone abroad.  Korea is a rapidly aging society, with one of the world’s lowest birth rates at 0.8 children per family.  In addition to this demographic change, the recent economic slowdown at home is also contributing, to some degree, to the declining number of Korean students in the U.S.

Although a university’s reputation is still a key element for Korean students seeking degree programs, recently more Korean students are employing strategies to lower the costs of their education by studying at community colleges before transferring to four-year schools or state universities with less expensive living costs.  Korea’s dynamic and constantly evolving education market is best accessed via the speed and power of referrals and information that flow by word-of-mouth.  Good opportunities do exist, albeit with decreasing numbers of U.S.-bound Korean students, when U.S. educational entities are prepared to compete in a highly sophisticated, demanding, and brand-oriented market.

Korean Students Total

Year

2015/16

2016/17

2017/18

2018/19

2019/20

South Korea’s Rank

4

3

3

3

3

Korean Students

61,007

58,663

54,555

52,250

49,809

% Percentage

5.8

5.4

5.0

4.8

4.6

No. of New International Student Enrollment

300,743

290,836

271,738

269,383

267,712

Total No. of International Students

1,043,839

1,078,822

1,094,792

1,095,299

1,075,496

(Source: IIE Open Doors 2020 Report)

SUB-SECTORS

Undergraduate and Graduate Programs:  According to Open Doors 2020, 47% of Korean students studying in the U.S are enrolled in undergraduate courses and 30% are enrolled in graduate courses.  The best prospects for attracting Korean students are in higher education programs of undergraduate- and graduate-level study.  The perception and prestige of U.S. universities, academic research, and the chance to gain English proficiency remain strong draws for Koreans, despite challenges, such as the declining Korean population and the growing appeal of China as a study abroad destination.

Intensive English Programs:  Korea is the fifth-leading country of origin for students studying in intensive English programs in the U.S.  Korean students take intensive English programs to improve their English language skills for academic and professional reasons.  The numbers have declined over the years due to the increased availability of English language training programs by native English speakers in Korea.  However, Korean students continue to opt to study in the U.S. because most Korean parents view English education as a top priority and prefer immersion in an English-language speaking environment.  Lower school students in Grades 1 - 6 utilize summer or winter vacation periods to take short-term language learning programs in the U.S.

Education Technology:  The education technology market is advancing in Korea and is a growing sector with potential for advanced education technology suppliers.  Korea is among the world’s most digitally connected countries and developments are progressing in EdTech areas, including mobile learning environments, online learning analytics for instructional design, and artificial intelligence for science research.  EdTech has been strongly supported by the government for decades and forms a significant part of government strategy to reform the education system to focus on developing students’ skills and using the latest cutting-edge technology.

Korean students studying in the U.S.

Year

Academic Level

2015/16

2016/17

2017/18

2018/19

2019/20

Number of South Korean students by Academic Level

Undergraduate

32,695

30,080

27,638

25,161

23,415

Graduate

16,613

16,471

15,572

15,518

15,219

Non-Degree

4,660

4,328

3,631

3,497

3,301

OPT

7,039

7,784

7,714

8,074

7,874

Total No. of South Korean Students

Total

61,007

58,663

54,555

52,250

49,809

(Source: IIE Open Doors 2020 Report)

OPPORTUNITIES

To attract Korean students and penetrate the dynamic and highly competitive Korean education market, U.S. education institutions should take an approach based on a more permanent, consistent, and profound commitment to the market.  Korean parents are increasingly savvy about how they acquire information on educational opportunities for their children.  Traditional ways of recruiting students, such as hosting school information sessions and participating in trade fairs are less effective than they were in the past.  Education recruitment agents or local representatives are utilized less.  U.S. education institutions should consider employing a combination of online and off-line promotional campaigns.  Building people-to-people networks through alumni advocacy, as well as developing and broadening exchange programs, which could, in turn, raise the profile of the U.S. institution, help U.S. schools attract Korean students to the United States.

DIGITAL MARKETING STRATEGIES

Korea is known for having one of the fastest Internet networks in the world and the Internet penetration numbers reach 96 percent.  The number of mobile connections was equivalent to 118 percent of the total population and social media penetration stood at 87 percent in 2020.  The proliferation of Internet use has contributed to the increased usage of social media channels.  The country’s search traffic is dominated by local search engine platforms such as Naver and Daum, which control 93% of the market.  Use of Google is growing in the market.  The most popular social media sites for students in Korea are Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Band, and Kakao Story.  Kakao Talk is the most popular messaging app and social network that Korean students use to interact.  The increasingly hyper-connected student population uses mobile devices during the exploration phase of seeking out education programs and the majority make their first visits to websites on their mobile devices.

U.S. schools should create new channels of engagement with Korean students by utilizing the popular local platforms and social media channels to share valuable information on their programs and increase their visibility to this audience.  Digital marketing is very relevant for the higher education sector since students have the highest Internet consumption rate of any other group.

EVENTS

Korea Study Abroad & Emigration Fair – www.uhak2min.com/en/
The MBA Tours – www.thembatour.com
University Fair organized by Linden Tours – www.lindentours.com
Korea Student Fair – www.aief-usa.org
Education Korea – www.educationkorea.kr

RESOURCES

U.S. COMMERCIAL SERVICE CONTACT

Ms. Jessica Son, Senior Commercial Specialist
U.S. Commercial Service – Seoul, South Korea
Email: 
jessica.son@trade.gov
Phone:  +82-2-397-4587