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Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic Games, created the motto, Citius! Altius! Fortius! in Latin, which means Faster, Higher and Stronger. The pole vault competition, in particular, embodies the true meaning of the Olympics.
The top pole vaulters leap three times their height. Jumping one centimeter higher after many years of achievement is much more difficult than going 10 centimeters higher in the early years of an athlete’s career.
The use of SCI, Science Citation Index, to measure scientists’ achievements based on the number of papers published is becoming popular. Even though the index stirs controversy, it is also a practical guidepost. The number of papers released by local scientific institutes last year totals 14,916, ranking Korea 13th in published scientific papers, one level above its position in 2001. The same index is used to show the competitiveness within Korea’s scientific community. Kwangju Institute of Science and Technology was tops in the number of papers per professor last year, 5.34. Pohang University of Science and Technology ranked first in published papers per student.
Seoul National University was ranked 40th on the SCI list in 2001. This was an impressive record, considering that the university has a relatively short history of research. In Europe, there are many universities with more than 100 years of history, and in the United States, there are prestigious private schools, including Harvard, and competitive state universities. These universities are filled with excellent research personnel from China, Taiwan, Korea and India. Top Korean students who passed the fierce competition for university entrance here go to U.S. graduate schools.
In the United States, a secretary is assigned to two university professors to manage all the chores. But Korean professors do the office work themselves. Research funding at Seoul National University is the same as at second-tier schools in the United States. Last year, Seoul National was ranked 34th on the SCI list, up six slots from the previous year, which could be compared with a big leap in pole vault competition.
U.S. schools have the strongest competitiveness in education; prestigious private schools, including Harvard, MIT, Caltech, Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania and Cornell, compete with state universities, such as UCLA, University of Washington, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, University of Wisconsin and University of Texas. The top schools account for more than half of total research funding of U.S. universities.
The government should allocate more money to Korea’s national universities. Funding for universities should be increased to make them world competitive. Seoul National University has advanced on the SCI list, and the government should provide the funds for it to vault even higher.

by Kim Hee-joon

The writer is a chemistry professor at Seoul National University.
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