[EDITORIALS]Task for a science president

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[EDITORIALS]Task for a science president

The Presidential Advisory Council for Science and Technology, chaired by President Kim Dae-jung, held a meeting on Saturday and decided to invest 35 trillion won ($26.7 billion) in research and development over the next five years. Aiming to raise Korea's competitiveness in science and technology from 21st to 10th in the world by 2006, the plan seeks a combined 13 trillion won investment in the six most promising technologies - information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, environmental technology, space technology and cultural information. The proposal calls for the training of 430,000 persons in these areas.

The government understands the importance of enhancing the nation's scientific and technological competitiveness. But it must be aware that major investments do not automatically cultivate talented manpower. More than anything else, measures to boost the morale of our researchers must be implemented. In the late 1960s, the government provided exceptional treatment, including free housing, for scientists. Such incentives attracted many brilliant students into science and engineering, and those students later became the major locomotive for Korea's economic growth.

Ziang Zemin, the Chinese leader, visited Qian Xue-sen at his home on the world-renowned scientist's birthday to praise his contribution to China. But what is the situation in Korea? Over the last five years 160,000 fewer high school students have chosen to focus on science as their major course of study. On the state-administered College Scholastic Ability Test, the percentage of university aspirants listing science and engineering as their intended major declined from 43 percent to 27 percent during the same period. Most of those who did list science as majors chose medicine and dentistry, where stable jobs are guaranteed.

The nation's chief executive must pay more attention to science and technology. Our research institutes and universities must recruit young scientists from overseas. The employment of professors must be based on research achievements, rather than on connections. The president must take the initiative for an environment in which scientists are encouraged and duly respected, so that the country can prosper.
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