We take for granted our freedom, but as we are getting ready for the start of a new academic year, this story out of North Korea is a good reminder that we should be thankful for what we assume as common to all.
Here are excerpts of the story about what is happening with college students there – this is remarkable!
Close watchers of North Korean affairs were caught on the hop last week by reports that universities in the hermit kingdom would be closed from 27 June for up to 10 months while students are sent to work on farms, in factories and in construction.
The Pyongyang government had ordered universities to cancel classes until April next year, exempting only students graduating in the next few months and foreign students.
The reports said the students would be put to work on construction projects in major cities and on other works in a bid to rebuild the economy. This could indicate that the country’s food crisis and economic problems are worse than previously thought.
Experts on North Korea said full-scale university closures would be unprecedented. However, it was not unusual for students to be engaged in manual labour, with the academic year sometimes shortened in order to send students onto farms and construction sites.
“Some two years ago the DPRK announced that it would build 200,000 units of accommodation in the city to ease the chronic housing shortage. To date only some 10,000 units have been built, so the students have been taken out of universities in order to speed up the construction of the balance before major celebrations take place in April 2012 to commemorate the 100th birthday of the founder of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung.”
Charles Armstrong, Director of the Centre for Korea Research at Columbia University who returned from Pyongyang earlier last week, said he had visited two state-run universities, Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang, as well as the private Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) in the last few weeks.
At the two public universities the vast majority of students were not present, Armstrong told University World News. “It is also a very busy time for rice transplanting and you see a lot of young people in the fields.”
“My impression is that there is not a lot going on in terms of teaching and studying in public universities and student time is taken up with ‘extra curricular’ activities including political education. This is a regular part of university life but I have not heard of the universities being shut down completely except for a short while during the 1990s [famine],” he added.
Analysts in Japan and South Korea suggested there could be other reasons behind the decision to disperse the students across the country, including the possibility of demonstrations at campuses inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, which began at universities.
They noted that North Korea had purchased anti-riot equipment from China in recent months, including tear gas and batons, while there has been an increased police presence at key points in Pyongyang in recent weeks.
According to North Korea analysts, party controls are in place to prevent student uprisings, including political indoctrination and strong surveillance. Some analysts said surveillance on campuses had relaxed in recent years because many party officials had not been paid.
However, experts agreed that the possibility of universities being shut would be an ominous sign of tension. “The most likely reason [to shut universities down completely] would be for military mobilisation if they thought they were going to be attacked,” Smith said.
You can read the full story from University World News HERE.