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2022 New Year's Address 2022.02.14

New Year’s greetings to our Yonsei family. In the year of the tiger 2022, I wish you and your families the best of health, as well as peace and prosperity.

While a New Year’s Day comes around without fail this time of year, this time around our expectations for the upcoming year are more than ordinary. With the global pandemic entering its third year and the world showing signs of great change, Yonsei University too is preparing for a new leap forward. According to the Book of Changes, this year is a crucial time during which water and fire meet and alter the flow of events. This seems fitting with the experts’ unified opinion that there will be great upheavals post-COVID-19. We look ahead to staying ahead of the gigantic waves of revolutionary change with one accord. Even if these oncoming waves of challenge are demanding, they will not break Yonsei University’s united spirit. After all, Yonsei has navigated vast changes over its 136 years of history with unfailing ingenuity and determination.

Yonsei University as a community moved ahead with great momentum in 2021. First, we reached our highest rankings ever in several university indices. According to the Impact Ranking 2021 conducted by Times Higher Education (THE), a UK-based global university evaluation agency, Yonsei University was selected as the 30th university in the world, the top ranking in Korea. Yonsei also achieved its highest ever ranking in the QS World University Rankings, and, even more encouraging, our rise has been steep. Only Yonsei moved up in various indicators while the rankings of several other domestic universities declined. Similar trends were repeated in THE’s annual world university rankings. While Korea’s major universities were stagnant or on a downward curve, only Yonsei achieved the feat of jumping up thirty-six places compared to last year. On the domestic front, we tied in second place in the 2021 JoongAng Ilbo general university rankings and came first among private universities. This is the best record since the university ranking system was revised in 2015.

The stellar research achievements of our faculty, even as they are doing their best in educating students, was the decisive factor in our rankings triumph. We ranked first in Korea for the number of international journal articles per professor and ranked fourth in article citations. While government-funded science and engineering universities often dominate the top spots on the international journal citations count, it was especially encouraging to see that the research conducted by our faculty performed extremely well. I express my sincerest gratitude to our faculty for their devoted efforts in education and research despite the unprecedented obstacles of COVID-19.

Good news also arrives from our Yonsei University Health System, which was ranked in first place for eleven consecutive years by the National Customer Satisfaction Index (NCSI) conducted by the Korea Productivity Center. We particularly welcome the fact that the nation’s first heavy ion therapy treatment system has been installed, leading the way to prepare for a new era of cancer treatment. This innovation continues the pioneering ambition of the Severance Yonsei Cancer Center’s establishment in 1969 as Korea’s first cancer center.

With its origins as the first Western-style hospital in Korea, Severance Hospital is focused on building an open digital health platform based on the vast amounts of clinical data accumulated over the years. This valuable clinical insight will come together with the latest IT technologies to provide powerful solutions for digital health, business collaborations, large-scale government research projects, and leadership in global digital medicine. I express my deepest gratitude to all members of the medical center who are dedicated to this enterprise.

Yonsei University’s Mirae Campus also gives us many achievements to be proud of. For the second consecutive year, the Mirae Campus has attracted more than 60 billion won in external research grants. Again for the second consecutive year, the campus has received the highest A grade bestowed by the University Innovation Support Project. This achievement was made possible by all the members of Mirae Campus who have come together to support the development goals of Vision 2030. I thank the Mirae Campus faculty who have demonstrated Yonsei’s fighting spirit, showing strength during times of crisis. Plans for the construction of the new Wonju Yonsei Hospital are also proceeding apace, under the Lord’s guiding hand.  

             I would also like to share news about our new digital education platform, LearnUs (Learning Ubiquitous Square). When we are next able to welcome you to campus, you will see a translucent glass building to the left of the Baekyang Commons alumni square. This is LearnUs Open Studio and one of the visible sites of a key promise I made for new initiatives in ubiquitous learning. Yonsei is now first among domestic higher education institutions to have an online education platform where the general public can participate. Using cloud-based computing, LearnUs increases accessibility and secures high-quality educational content. LearnUs will allow Yonsei to take leadership in the paradigmatic shift in education triggered by the pandemic. Higher education is moving beyond the physical space of a university campus to an online platform accessible to everyone. Again, I would like to express my deep gratitude to all members of Yonsei for their dedication in building LearnUs, a leap forward in higher education for Yonsei and for Korea.

             Every morning as I commute to my office in Underwood Hall, I wonder about the nature of the university. What is the university spirit? What kind of place should a university be? What sort of future are we headed towards? As you may know, institutions of higher education began to be called “universitas” in 1088 in Bologna. The Studium of Bologna, formed when students from the Alps to the north and city-states to the south came together in central Italy and sought autonomy of education, is considered the first Western university. Medieval universities followed Bologna’s example, but many soon lapsed into an obsolete educational system. With Latin as a common language, universities in Italy, France, and England operated under different names but adopted fundamentally the same curriculum. In this way, they were unable to meet the challenges of a new era and the demands for change. The medieval university, which could not adapt to the multiple demands imposed on it by the Black Death, the Hundred Years' War, the discovery of the New World, and the development of science, soon fell into a gradual demise. The development of the printing press, in particular, accelerated the downfall of medieval universities. The transition into learning through books brought about a revolution in university education, and the lecture-oriented medieval university soon lost its place. In some ways, it was a natural phenomenon that the medieval university would decline since it could not keep up with the rapid development of academics and dissemination of new information.

The model of the first modern university to which we belong today is the Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany, founded in 1810. This was the birth of a research-oriented university aimed at deepening and sharing education with the younger generation in hopes they would lead the future. Great Britain quickly accepted the German model of the modern university and developed it into an institution for nurturing future generations. In the 20th century, the United States took leadership in the field of higher education, bringing together the research-oriented, private university system from the German model and a state-led university system from the British. This is how the American university was able to catch two birds—the elite and public educational systems—with one stone.

Our circumstances are changing yet again. The modern university models that emerged out of Germany, the UK, and the United States are now facing new pressures for change. If the development of the printing press and the mass dissemination of books dismantled universities in the medieval era, universities now face those challenges in the form of the Internet and other media innovations. We have already passed the tipping point where the online revolution is breaking down standardized curricula, local or national boundaries in knowledge, and expectations of an appropriate time-frame for learning. Now, higher education is faced with the prospect of universities without campuses and an open education system with no restrictions of age or major or location. We can imagine nomadic models for education, in which a student can travel around the world, educating him/herself online, and interacting with young people the world over. The pandemic has only accelerated the challenge to our formerly held basic premises of education, that knowledge must be transferred face-to-face in classrooms or that research must be conducted together in physical laboratories. In the past two years, we have witnessed how one invisible virus can effect a whole generation’s worth of changes.

             Higher education faces a watershed moment. Just as medieval universities that failed to adapt to new media closed a chapter of their history, so will universities that fail to respond to today’s demands face potential demise. Korea’s demographers and education experts predict that by 2046, half of our country's universities will disappear. Of course, Yonsei will not be at great risk, given our long-standing tradition, excellent faculty, and alumni support. However, I view our crisis not as a matter of survival but an opportunity to flourish. After all, we can think about our raison d’etre, or our reason to be. Why does Yonsei University necessarily have to exist only in Korea? Our crossroads are an opportunity, where Yonsei can become a world-leading learning center. LearnUS can help Yonsei University’s pursuit for truth and freedom transition into an era without national borders, and with vast global connectivity. Our role must be to pursue innovative research and knowledge to solve the problems of humanity, the new raison d’etre of Yonsei University and our God-given mission.

As we look ahead to the start of a new school year, I can only express a cautious hope that COVID will wane and we will return to the campus we all miss. I share your frustration in entering our third year of social distancing, and I am unfortunately unable to confirm whether we will be able to reopen the campus in March. Yet I have faith that Yonsei will move forward with ambition and with grace. Step by step, we will hold on to our grand dreams and see them realized in concrete ways. I believe firmly in our Yonsei community’s potential and our talents. Despite our difficult times, Yonsei University’s push toward innovation will continue, based upon a mutual respect and trust among our members. Please share with us both your disappointments and your dreams, so we can improve ourselves from the former and grow together with the latter.

May God’s grace, as always, accompany the Yonsei community in this coming year.

Thank you.