A Malaysian university has doffed its cap to North Korea and awarded its latest dear leader, Kim Jong-un an honorary doctorate in economics. A simple ceremony was held earlier this month to confer the title, which raised more than a few eyebrows in academia and on the diplomatic circuit.
Privately-run HELP University made the conferment. It’s President, Paul Chan, said the decision was all about building a bridge to reach the North Korean people with “a soft constructive approach” when dealing with leaders of the hermit kingdom.
"To help in the way we do it is a road untraveled, but we hope our first small crucial step will contribute to peace and prosperity for all," he said in a university statement.
Predictably, the government’s mouth piece, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) lauded the PhD while ignoring the plight of its own people and the economic policies that saddled them among the poorest in world – earning less than $1,300 a year each.
“We decided to award the degree to Kim Jong Un, who makes untiring efforts for the education of the country and the well-being of its people,” KCNA quoted Chan as saying at a ceremony attended by the North Korean ambassador. “This is the pride of the university.”
Chan also said he hoped cooperation between North Korea and Malaysia in the field of education, which HELP is noted for, would develop in the future.
Criticism of the decision appears to have been removed from the university’s Facebook account while elsewhere the university, founded in 1986, was criticized for trying to ingratiate itself and profit.
Investor and philanthropist Koon Yew Yin said private universities were more concerned with their student intake, raking in fat profits by charging the highest fees possible and pushing graduates out quickly so that another fee paying intake replaces the ones who are leaving.
“Trumpeting the achievements of the university and drawing attention on how it is able to provide value to the prospective student is another method. This to me is the reason why HELP has bestowed what is for most universities their most prestigious academic award to a dictator and tyrant who presides over one of the most totalitarian and repressive regimes in our region,” he said.
It was the first honorary doctorate awarded to an overseas head of state by HELP, an acronym for Higher Education Learning Philosophy. Kim Jong-un has flirted with liberalizing the centrally planned economy since coming to power last year; however, little or no gains have been made.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt