Shakeup or just neglect?In his minor shakeup of the cabinet on Monday, President Lee designated Ahn Byong-man, the former chairman of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, to replace Kim Doe-yeon, the minister of education, science and technology. Kim is from the science and technology field while Ahn is from the education field. Cheong Jean-gon, the Blue House senior secretary for education, science and culture, is also from the education field. As both the presidential secretary and the minister are from the education field, many complain that the science and technology field is neglected.
Pursuing the concept of small government, the Lee administration merged the Ministry of Science and Technology into the Ministry of Education. In anticipation of resistance from the science and technology field, a person from the field was employed as minister. But he was too busy handling pending education issues to look into science and technology issues before he was replaced.
In the name of reforms in the government, the Lee administration also streamlined science and technology research centers sponsored by the government. Heads of major research institutes in Daedeok District, Taejon, were replaced, prompting criticism. As the administration ignored special traits in the science and technology field and fired heads of institutes with terms still remaining, morale in the field dwindled significantly.
As Korea lacks natural resources, it has to rely on brain power as the key to it is science and technology. This is also why the former administration had the Ministry of Education and Science as an independent body and its minister was treated as having the same status as deputy prime minister.
The absence of a control tower is the biggest problem in the Lee administration’s science and technology policy. Along with the reshuffle, the Blue House made a new post of part-time special presidential aide for science and technology but it is hard to expect the person in the post to take a central role.
It would be a good idea to have a senior presidential secretary for communications, science and technology. Or, the National Science and Technology Council led by the president can be changed into a standing committee and let the head of the committee take the central role. The effects of neglecting the science and technology field will appear in 10 or 20 years.
We hope the Lee administration will not be blamed for hampering future development in science and technology.