SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah intends to take their curriculum to the international level come 2014. The Board of Trustees has approved a plan that will open a campus in the South Korean city of Songdo, which will offer degrees in five areas.
"We believe that this will strengthen our reputation and bring more notoriety," said Robert Muir, director of international operations and financial analytics.
An agreement between the government of South Korea and the U. has been reached that will allow the university to bring the current curriculum and prestige of the school to the Korean peninsula for virtually no money at all. A subsidy of $1.5. million has been granted, as well as a $10 million no-interest loan that does not have to be paid back should the venture fail to turn a profit.
Not only that, but the university will take up residence in an already-constructed campus that features state of the art technology in the heart of the Incheon Free Economic Zone, a $10 billion government project set up to make Songdo and the surrounding area one of the top economic areas in the world. Rent on the building is free for the university for four years, and won't be charged if it puts the venture into the red.
"From a financial standpoint there is very little exposure, about as little as you can get," Muir said.
The university has a goal to become an international school, one that has long been part of its mission statement, Muir said. That, along with the hefty financial incentives, is what initially attracted it to the project when it was approached by South Korean officials in 2008. By 2012, it had already signed a financial services agreement, which gave the school $1 million to study the feasibility of the project. The Board of Trustees signed off on the idea last week.
The Songdo Global University Campus is a joint venture between the South Korean government and four international universities, including George Mason University, Ghent University in Belgium and the State University of New York. All four schools will share a campus in Songdo, with each school providing specific degrees that don't overlap.
The U. will offer undergraduate degrees in Social Work, Psychology, Communication and Writing and Rhetoric, as well as a masters in English Language Teaching.
Muir said school officials are hoping the distinction of getting a degree from a top-100 U.S. University is what will attract South Koreans to come to the university and pay the roughly $20,000 tuition. Degrees will be identical to those on the Utah campus.
"The attractiveness of this is that they are going to be receiving a University of Utah degree, as if they attended the university here," Muir said. "The curriculum will be the same. We will be offering no programs over there that we don't offer over here."
Most programs also require the students to spend one of their four years at the Utah campus.
Muir said they hope the university will be truly international. The intended makeup is roughly 40 percent South Korean students, 40 percent students from other countries in Asia, and 20 percent Utahns, Americans and Europeans.
Though the venture is for-profit, the money made needs to stay in South Korea. Muir said they hope the project will be self-sustaining in the next four years. The school is shooting for a 2,000 high point with about 1,100 in the short term.