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Sanctions Hobble Western-Funded Pyongyang University

  • Ham Jiha

Chancellor of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology Chan-Mo Park, who is seen in this 2012 photo, says “We were doing a virtual reality class and some students turned in materials about American hip hop music for their homework.”

Chancellor of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology Chan-Mo Park, who is seen in this 2012 photo, says “We were doing a virtual reality class and some students turned in materials about American hip hop music for their homework.”

Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, which is largely funded by Western-based Evangelical Christians, is facing financial difficulties due to international sanctions against North Korea, according to Dr. Chan-Mo Park, the school’s chancellor.

The North’s recent nuclear tests and hostilities against the South have further isolated the country, prompting U.N. Security Council resolutions to clampdown on its finances.

“We want to recruit South Korean professors, but the May 24 measure blocks it,” Park, a South Korean-born U.S. citizen, who is a former computer science professor at the University of Maryland, told VOA on Wednesday.

Seoul initiated measures against Pyongyang in 2010 after accusing the North of sinking one of its naval vessels, claiming the lives of 46 sailors. Despite ongoing tensions, North Korea’s first privately funded university is growing, offering North Korean students rare opportunities to engage with Western-trained scientists, according to Park.

“We were doing a virtual reality class and some students turned in materials about American hip hop music for their homework,” said Park, describing students eager to learn about the outside world.

Park also said the North Korean regime allows graduate students limited access to the internet for study, though it's not on par with the online access enjoyed by senior government officials.

Critics argue the institution could help the North Korean regime advance nuclear technology, a charge dismissed by Park, who said the school’s curriculum complies with U.S. regulations.

The university, which opened in 2010, currently hosts some 500 enrolled students and 100 professors, some of whom are U.S. citizens.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Korean Service.

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