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George Mason to launch South Korea campus

An artist's rendering of Songdo Global University, now under construction in the Incheon Free Economic Zone, a man-made island off the coast of South Korea. (George Mason University)

George Mason University is planning to establish a branch campus at Songdo Global University in South Korea, its Board of Visitors voted earlier this month. This will be Mason’s second attempt to expand beyond Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William and Loudoun counties.

Songdo Global University is a key part of a privately developed, man-made island called the Incheon Free Economic Zone, in the Yellow Sea off Incheon, which aims to be an international hub for business and technology. The university, in New Songdo City, has recruited other American schools such as the State University of New York, the University of Utah and the University of Illinois to set up programs or campuses, though others, such as N.C. State and Southern California, backed away over financial concerns.

Mason has been studying this idea for several years, before the arrival of new president Angel Cabrera, and wants to begin offering undergraduate programs in management and economics in the spring of 2014, followed by global affairs and later graduate programs, according to a release from the school. The plan would be for Korean students to spend their first, second and fourth years at Songdo and their third year in Fairfax, while American students could study in Korea for up to a year.

Anne Schiller, Mason’s vice president for global strategies, told the Broadside student newspaper that “Mason’s 2014 strategic plan described East Asia as a geographic region of particular interest to Mason..the Songdo campus strategically and intentionally establishes a visible presence for Mason in a prestigious East Asian location and will enhance Mason’s reputation nationally and abroad.”

Songdo Global describes itself as “a Mecca for education and research,” and lists “Jorge Masson University” among the prestigious institutions who will be joining it. (“Jorge Masson: We sell no degree before its time.”) This is Mason’s second try at a foreign campus. An earlier program in the United Arab Emirates closed after three years, spokesman John Blacksten said. Here’s an interesting look at Songdo Global that the Chronicle of Higher Education did in 2009, and an update in 2011 from University World News.

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