Sunday, 1 September 2013

NORTH KOREA: Dictator’s grandson heads to top French university

A spokesperson for Paris' elite Institute of Political Studies, Sciences Po, has confirmed that Kim Han-sol – grandson of the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il – will begin classes at its Le Havre campus this September, after French news reports revealed that he would join the three-year Europe-Asia undergraduate programme taught in English.

Kim Han-sol is the son of Kim Jong-il's eldest son Jong-nam and the nephew of current leader Kim Jong-un. The family is said to be based in the Chinese territory of Macau.

The news comes as reports emerged from North Korea that the current leadership is attempting to limit ‘special admissions’ to the country’s top universities for the children of senior officials.

According to South Korean sources it is a ‘populist’ move by Kim Jong-un aimed at increasing his standing among ordinary people.

Insiders said that more children of North Korean elites were applying to universities outside the country, particularly in China – mainly for short programmes – and in Hong Kong due to the tightening of rules for top-tier North Korean universities.

But Han-sol is widely recognised as a special case as he is already living and studying overseas.

Hong Kong in 2011 denied Han-sol a visa after he had been accepted at Li Po Chun United World College, a residential college for 16- to 19-year-olds. He joined the Bosnia-Herzegovina branch of United World College in Mostar instead, graduating this year. He is fluent in English.

Han-sol’s educational opportunities are in strong contrast to those of even higher-level cadres in Pyongyang.

According to a report in March this year by Daily NK, a website on North Korea run from Seoul, quoting a Pyongyang source, new orders were recently handed down by Kim Jong-un placing a limit on the number of children from the Central Party secretariat list entering top Pyongyang universities.

Despite complaints from the elite, it has now become more difficult for party cadres, even if they have money and power, to get their children into a top local university unless they have talent. There have been suggestions in the past that rich cadres have ‘bought’ places for their offspring at top North Korean institutions.

Children of ordinary workers and families from rural regions should have more opportunity to get into good universities. Previously even the most talented children struggled to get into a good institution, as children of loyal elite families were given priority, according to Daily NK.

North Korea’s top universities are considered to be Kim Il-sung University, Kim Chaek University of Technology, the International Relations University and Kim Hyong Jik College of Education in Pyongyang.

Top universities in the capital were intended to train top party officials, with technical training coming second place.

A North Korean refugee Kang Ji-hoon, who graduated from Kim Il-sung University, told New Focus International, a news site that gathers information from North Korean refugees, earlier this year: “The pride that we felt about having attended a top-tier university was not so much based on having achieved something of our own accord, but rather, pride at having parents from a certain political class.”

The majority of major figures in the party and state apparatus under Kim Jong-un are graduates of Kim Il-sung University, according to new research carried out in South Korea.

The analysis of 106 high officials under Kim Jong-un, released last year by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, found that 35.5% graduated from Kim Il-sung University, with a further 17.7% studying at Kim Il-sung Military University and 9.7% at Kim Chaek University of Technology.

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