[EDITORIALS]To avoid a high-tech bust

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[EDITORIALS]To avoid a high-tech bust

A new analysis on the level of competence here in six cutting-edge technologies, including information technology, showed Korea lagging far behind the leaders. There have been claims that we are an IT superpower -- based on our accomplishments in semiconductors and mobile telecommunications -- but the analysis shows that those claims may have been made by "a frog in a well," oblivious to what is out there.

The analysis comes from the Ministry of Science and Technology's comparison of our cutting edge technologies with the advances made in other countries. The technological strength of our IT sector was found to be at 60 to 70 percent of the sectors in other advanced countries, or two or three years behind. In biotechnology, Korea is at 60 percent of major powers, and our nanotechnology is at a feeble 25 percent. Few meaningful comparisons were possible in the areas of environmental technology, space technology and digital content technology, which have also been dubbed "growth industries" for some time.

The noticeable gap in the level of cutting-edge technological proficiency between Korea and those of the more successful countries can be traced to money and people. As much as the importance of the six industries has been recognized, investment in those has fallen far behind the spending of others. Seoul has spent just over 25 percent of its total budget for research and development in the six areas, lagging the 42 percent by the United States and 31 percent in Japan. The shortage of skilled workers in these areas is even more alarming. The study forecast a shortfall of 60 percent in the needed personnel in biotechnology in the coming decade. More than 3,200 positions in nanotechnology will remain unfilled in the next five years.

Much of the future of Korea's economy depends on how advanced technologies will be merged with existing industries. Now that we know about the gap, it is important to put together an action plan to catch up. Increased investments are urgent. In the longer-term, the aversion to science and engineering fields shown by our students must be reversed. There is a good chance that we will be a technological backwater if less than 30 percent of our high school graduates choose to study science.
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