Founded back in 1495, as the third oldest university in Scotland and said to be the fifth in the English-speaking world, the University of Aberdeen has a long history when it comes to leading the way. It is a tradition that seems set to continue with its latest ground-breaking venture – a new campus in South Korea – which makes it the first UK institution to set up shop in the country, and only the sixth international university to have a presence there.

Rated one of the world’s top 200 universities in last year’s Times Higher Education rankings, and based in Europe’s oil and gas capital, Aberdeen enjoys an enviable reputation in the global offshore industry. Since the South Korean government is specifically looking to develop the sector as a key part of its overall economic strategy, the collaboration seems obvious.

The agreement came about after the University was identified as the institution best equipped to deliver the knowledge and expertise necessary to make Korean plans to set up an offshore centre of excellence a reality. As a result, there has been considerable support for the project, which has seen the local authorities of the Gyeongsangnamdo Prefecture, Gwangyang Bay Free Economic Zone Authority and Hadong County being involved as partners, and the Korean Ministry of Trade and Industry providing establishment funding.

Centre of expertise in offshore technologies

According to Professor Seth Kunin, Aberdeen’s vice-principal, establishing this unique and world-leading facility will have major benefits for the University of Aberdeen, for South Korea and for the wider offshore industry too. He says that the establishment of the new site will allow the University to export its teaching and research expertise to create a leading higher education institution in East Asia, while the unique facilities available there coupled with the opportunity to collaborate with its Korean partners will also enhance its research capacity.

Diane Austin, an anthropology professor at the University of Arizona, has been researching the social impacts of an offshore lifestyle.

Professor Kunin says: "Our goal is for the campus to be a world-class centre of expertise in offshore technologies, delivering high-quality teaching to postgraduate students and offering training, research and consultancy services for the international offshore oil and gas industry, with whom the University has close links thanks to its presence in Europe’s oil and gas capital."

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He adds: "In addition, the campus will enhance the University’s links with key institutions in Korea and beyond, and provide Aberdeen students with opportunities to develop their international experience and build links with students from the East Asia region, who will also benefit from these same opportunities."

Training in petroleum and topside engineering

Located in the Hadong District to the south of the country, Aberdeen’s first international campus is scheduled to open its doors to students in September 2016. Specialising in offshore-related disciplines, it will offer two, one-year MSc programmes in Engineering in Year 1 – Petroleum Engineering and Topside Engineering – along with an MBA in Energy Management and 3-year PhD programmes in Engineering, as well as short Continuous Professional Development (CPD) courses. An MSc in Subsea Engineering will be added in Year 2, and a further two MSc programmes may be added after Year 5, subject to demand, but the University is not currently planning to offer undergraduate programmes at the Korean Campus.

Most of the students studying at the new campus are expected to come from South Korea and the wider East Asia region, and although their course of study will primarily be centred there, students will be given the option to go to Aberdeen.

Initially this will apply to those working towards PhDs, but Kunin says that in due course they hope to extend the same opportunity to Masters students and in addition, there will also be the prospect of voluntary exchange between University students based in Aberdeen and those in South Korea.

Industry links: boosting Korea’s offshore industry

The link to industry is particularly strong throughout, with placements and visits forming an important part of the curriculum, allowing students to take advantage of the location of the campus near to the largest companies in the Korean offshore sector, and gain valuable experience prior to graduating.

To support this, the University has attracted an impressive list of industry partners too, including KOSORI, Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo and Hanjin Heavy Industries, who have signed up to help bolster Korea’s offshore industry, and develop qualified staff for the sector.

"Collaborating with the biggest shipbuilding and offshore industries in Korea and the UK will ensure that what students learn is directly relevant to the needs of industry in the region."

The partnership will see existing employees able to participate in relevant postgraduate study programmes and CPD courses, while the companies themselves will provide internships, and possibly employment opportunities. Some of the students could also get placements with the University’s chosen industrial partners in the UK.

It will also open up opportunities for joint academic/industry research projects to be undertaken that will allow new and innovative technologies to be developed for the sector.

"Collaborating with the biggest shipbuilding and offshore industries in Korea and the UK will ensure that what students learn is directly relevant to the needs of industry in the region and as graduates they are well equipped to make a valuable contribution to the country’s economy," Kunin explains.

He says, it means that graduates will be in the unique position of being able to gain an internationally reputable postgraduate degree, while developing crucial links alongside their learning to help them prepare for their career, and potentially giving them the edge with prospective employers.

Partnerships of equals

Like all higher education establishments today, the University of Aberdeen needs to remain competitive in the globalised education market, so with its first international campus shortly about to open for business, what – and where – is next for Aberdeen on the world stage?

"The University is proactively exploring a wide range of international initiatives and partnerships, and is ambitious to continue to enhance its opportunities as an International University," says Kunin.

"The key basis of all of these discussions and thinking is how the potential initiative or partnership fits in with our University’s mission – particularly in relation to research and education. We are also looking for initiatives in which there is significant value for both parties; partnerships of equals."

With the Korean campus preparing to welcome its first influx in little over a year, Aberdeen’s international export drive certainly seems to have got off to a good start.