ANU has the longest-established Korean language, history and culture program in Australia. In 1979, Yang Hi Choe-Wall, a Korean literature and translation scholar, began teaching Korean to ANU students and diplomats in the China Centre of the Faculty of Asian Studies. During the first four years, the Korean government assisted by sending a lecturer annually. In 1984, she took on the position of Korean language convener, and continued to teach Korean language with the assistance of Gi-Hyun Shin and Hyung-A Kim. Like many of her successors, she secured support for the Korean program through external grants, mostly from the Korean government.
In 1994, the ANU Centre for Korean Studies was established in order to bring together faculty from many different academic units within the University and ensure the cohesion of the Korean program. In 1995, linguist Gi-hyun Shin (now UNSW) was hired on the basis of a major grant from the Korea Foundation. He was joined by North Korea specialist Andrei Lankov (now Kookmin University) in 1996. In 2001, with the assistance of a Korea Foundation capital endowment grant, the ANU created an endowed Chair position in Korean Studies, which was filled by historian Kenneth Wells (now University of Canterbury) from 2003 to 2010. Prof. Wells not only established the Centre for Korean Studies at ANU, but he also played a key role in the foundation of the Korean Studies Association of Australasia. In 2006 and 2007 respectively, ethnomusicologist Roald Maliangkay and literary studies specialist and historian Ruth Barraclough filled the vacancies created by the eventual departure of Shin and Lankov.
The ANU Korea Institute was established in 2008. It was a major turning point, bolstering the existing strengths in humanities, enhancing research in the social sciences, and promoting a more active engagement in public affairs. Its inaugural Director was Emeritus Professor James Fox. The establishment also saw the creation of one full-time faculty position, which was filled by political historian Hyung-A Kim, who had played a key role in the Institute’s establishment. In addition, the KIEF created one 2-year postdoc position, along with several academic events such as an annual Distinguished Lecture Series and annual Australia-Korea Leadership Forum. The inaugural Forum was held in Canberra in October 2008, and then in Seoul in 2009. It demonstrated the Institute’s vision to establish itself as the premier institute in Australia for the study of Korean politics, economy and security and Korea’s role in regional affairs, on a par with leading institutes globally. Among the many distinguished individuals from both countries participating in those two years were the Honourable Simon Crean MP, Julie Bishop MP, and Jong Hun Kim, Minister for Trade, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
In 2009, the ANU received a generous donation from Mme Sochon Young Hi Park, founder of the Sochon Foundation in Seoul, for the establishment of student scholarships. From 2010 to 2018, historian Hyaeweol Choi (now University of Iowa) served as the ANU Chair of Korean Studies, and the Korea Institute’s Director. In 2017, Maliangkay became the Institute’s second Director. In 2018, in response to the ever-increasing number of enrolments in Korea-related subjects — ANU's Korean programs have come to attract hundreds of students each year — the School of Culture, History, and Language (CHL) launched majors in both Korean language and Korean studies.
The Institute currently organises an annual symposium on Korean diplomatic affairs (with support from the Embassy of the Republic of Korea), and biennially, a Korea Update, which emphasises on current social and political issues.