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Privately-funded N. Korean University Opens Medical School

FILE - Students at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology descend stairs after a seminar and lecture, Oct. 5, 2011.

North Korea’s first privately-funded university has opened a medical school, the university president told VOA this week.

The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) opened its medical school at the start of the month, nearly a year later than planned. The delay resulted from a late start in construction; the school faced difficulty getting all the necessary materials.

In a phone interview with VOA, the president of PUST, Dr. Kim Chin-Kyung, said the project was challenging, "but we opened colleges of dentistry and public health this quarter.”

PUST was founded and is operated and partly funded by groups outside the country. It was jointly planned by people in both Koreas, along with help from residents in other countries such as China and the United States. Funds have largely come from evangelical Christian movements.

The university is working toward establishing a total of five colleges within the medical school in a year's time. For the inaugural quarter, each of the two current colleges has 30 students enrolled. There are 10 faculty members from the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, Kim said.

Kim said the program at his university is contributing to improving the North’s health care education system.

“Our medical school is a master's program, and adopted from American and international medical school programs and curriculums,” Kim said.

The students selected by the communist regime to attend the program all have bachelor's degrees that they earned by completing four years of undergraduate medical study. In the first year at the PUST school, they will mainly focus on comprehending the courses in English.

North Korean officials appear to be cooperating with PUST’s effort. Two hospitals were provided for the university’s use, Kim said.

Kim said that through the PUST medical programs, he would pursue ways to improve the overall quality of medical schools as well as retrain existing physicians in North Korea.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.