A new program designed to promote engagement between Canada and North Korea will be bringing six professors from North Korea to study English and economics at UBC for six months.
“It’s a very tentative program. It’s the first time it’s been done. We’re not sure where it’s going. Even at the very worst, we’re going to learn things. There doesn’t seem to be any downside to it,” said Stephen Owen, who is VP external, legal and community relations for UBC.
“It might turn out to be a very positive thing, it might be a bust and something that isn’t continued. But I don’t think we can lose on it.”
The program, which is called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Knowledge Partnership Program, is directed by Kyung-Ae Park, the director of UBC’s Centre for Korean Research.
The names of the professors have not been released, but they are experts in their respective fields of macroeconomics, taxation, international trade and finance at Kim Il Sung University and Jong Jun Taek Economics University.
They arrived at UBC in July and spent the first two months of the program studying English. According to UBC Public Affairs, in addition to taking courses on economics and management, the professors will conduct research projects with faculty advisors.
“The desire is not to prop up a regime in North Korea, but to open up a country…we have so few lines of communication that the universities and our civil society groups can do things that the government can’t do,” said Paul Evans, UBC’s director of Asian Research.
According to Evans, UBC has had a history of academic exchanges with North Korea since the 1990s.
“There’s a certain confidence that has been built up over history in exchanges and that’s part of the reason that North Koreans feel this is a good place for exchange,” said Evans.
Although academic exchanges between Canada and North Korea have occurred in the past, this is the first program of its type to be held here.
Evans also commented on the potential of the program.
“If we can see some indication of a more open conversation, genuinely, knowledge being built on both sides through this and the other events, that’s a modest but important step forward in trying to end the isolation of North Korea.”