[EDITORIAL] Grants For Research or Fun MoneyIt is shocking to learn that the Brain Korea 21 research grant project has been a waste of Korean taxpayers' hard-earned money because of moral laxity on the part of grant recipients and slipshod supervision by its administrators. At some colleges the BK21 funds have been treated like easy money to be divided up and used however the recipients see fit, including in the case of some students, to go out and have a good time.
Under the banner of educational reform, the BK21 project was supposed to boost the development of higher education, focusing on graduate schools, but in spite of its goals, it has been a cause of trouble from the very beginning. Promising 200 billion won ($160 million) in research grants each year for seven years, until 2005, for a grand total of 1.4 trillion won, BK21 was looked upon as the long-awaited rain falling on a very dry academia. Competition for this extremely generous funding was fierce and generated much argument over which fields should be chosen and what the criteria for selection should be. There was dissatisfaction in the humanities and social sciences as well as endless discussion about how to keep the grants from being concentrated in Seoul at the expense of provincial schools.
Less than two years into the program, many problems have come to light. In some cases, professors use the money at their own whim or professors and graduate students divided it up. Sometimes even students who did not receive grants have been allowed to share in the bounty, and there are professors who put the money into fake bank accounts in students' names and used it themselves. In one case, a professor and students who received 40 million won for overseas training spent eight of their 13 days abroad sight-seeing.
The spending has gotten so out of hand that it is common to hear among business people around Seoul National University talk about a "BK Special." In a survey of college professors a majority said the research grant money is not being properly awarded.
The BK21 project must not be allowed to degenerate into a fund for research in how to have fun. The taxpayers, who are footing the bill, have a right to know how the money is being used, and this information should be made public.