KAIST departs from branch campus plan to join forces with NYU

Top Korean institution announces change of direction for its first venture into the US

October 2, 2022
Korea in New York
Source: iStock

A leading South Korean university will no longer open its own branch campus in New York City, instead announcing that it has joined forces with a local institution.

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) is forming a partnership with New York University to open a joint campus in the city, a departure from KAIST’s earlier plans of going solo in what would have been its first venture in the US.

On 21 September, representatives from both institutions signed a cooperation agreement in a ceremony attended by South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk-yeol, and New York’s mayor, Eric Adams.

Scholars speaking with Times Higher Education had previously noted that the move to open a New York City branch was not only a “high stakes” endeavour for KAIST but also a litmus test for the international prospects of Korean universities.

By instead pairing with a seasoned New York institution, KAIST takes a “very similar approach” to what NYU-Abu Dhabi did, said Jason Lane, professor of higher and international education at Miami University in Ohio.

The NYU partnership would allow KAIST to promote itself locally while working through state approvals in order to be able to offer degrees, he said.

“Working with NYU could be helpful to them in navigating local regulations as well as gaining local legitimacy. It’s harder to do that without a local partner, and both are going to be important if the effort is going to succeed,” he said.

Professor Lane noted that KAIST’s recent news made no mention of its initially announced business partner, a Korean-American real estate developer.

“They do appear to be moving more cautiously and, probably, strategically,” Professor Lane said of the institution.

Asked about KAIST’s shift in direction, a spokesperson told THE that “after much discussion”, the university had decided that a joint campus was “the most innovative and effective” way forward.

“We sought partnership from NYU to pursue the project in a more steadfast manner and to add stability to this long-term cross-continental effort,” said Hyunsook Min, general manager of KAIST’s public relations office.

Josh Taylor, NYU’s associate vice-chancellor for global programmes, told THE that while the KAIST outpost would be competing against other New York institutions, its collaboration with NYU could give it a leg-up in attracting students despite the tough market.

“By working together on this joint initiative, we don’t expect it [recruitment] to be an issue,” he said.

Mr Taylor said that while it was too early to confirm the exact location of the joint campus, one likely contender could be Brooklyn, the home of NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, which is already “playing a critical role in this new initiative”.

The new campus will focus on STEM fields such as biomedical engineering, artificial intelligence, AI-convergence brain science, climate and sustainability issues, cybersecurity and telecommunications, he said.

According to KAIST, both institutions hope to expand cooperation to establish global start-up “anchors” for students, taking advantage of New York’s start-up culture, which is modelled on San Francisco’s Silicon Valley.

Ms Min said KAIST has not ruled out other commercial partners for the New York campus’ future development.

“As our collaboration with NYU regarding this joint campus initiative picks up speed, we may re-engage with donors and developers who had previously expressed interests in working with us,” she said.

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

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