[ROSTRUM]Stop neglecting science arena

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[ROSTRUM]Stop neglecting science arena

The government recently announced a plan to invest 35 trillion won ($27 billion) in scientific research and development over the next five years. For this huge investment to bear fruit, I believe a comprehensive plan in technological areas should be implemented.

Under the current political system, the leader of the country, the president, should understand the importance of science and technology and take charge of related policies with a long-term perspective. But since the 1980s, only lip service has been paid to science and technology; in fact, science and technology were given little attention. The best example is the frequent departures of science ministers. In the Kim Young-sam administration, the science minister was replaced five times; the current administration has seen three science ministers. In other words, the head of one of the most politically neutral ministries has been changed without special issues at stake, just for the sake of politics.

Civil servants in related areas should improve their expertise. In Korea, most of the investment in science and technology comes from the government. There are cases where ill-advised outside experts have drawn up unrealistic plans. To minimize such mistakes, government officials should improve their knowledge. I recommend a systematic training program and fewer reshuffles.

As for the business community, they should have longer views when they invest in science and technology. Korean corporations tend to seek businesses that promise results in one or two years. As a result, Korea remains a country that merely copies technology developed by other advanced countries. Korean corporations should have confidence in their ability to compete with other advanced countries in developing new technologies.

A considerable amount of investment is allotted to government-invested research institutes, despite their low productivity. These research centers should concentrate more on research. It is difficult to expect productivity when the heads of such centers are political appointees and a bureaucratic atmosphere prevails. They should be given more freedom in setting their goals and administering their organizations. Colleges need a revolutionary transformation. The most important thing is the introduction of a system that can evaluate professors' performance objectively. Then professors should be treated differently, according to the evaluations. Compared with areas like liberal sciences, we can easily come up with objective and transparent standards to assess the performance of professors in science and technology. The evaluation systems should be implemented, at least in the top-notch universities, namely Seoul National University and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Professors who produce outstanding work and those who merely meet the basic requirements are treated the same in Korea. For our universities to perform their roles as the birthplace of state-of-the-art research and development, we need a reasonable differentiation.

The writer is a professor of bioengineering at Seoul National University.

by Kim Sun-young

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