[Outlook]Our future in science

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[Outlook]Our future in science

The Lee Myung-bak administration’s science and technology policy was released Tuesday. Called the “577 strategy” for science and technology, it plans to increase the budget for research and development to 5 percent of the gross domestic product by 2012, foster seven fields and reform research and development systems to make our country one of the world’s top seven powerhouses in science and technology.

Of that 5 percent, the government is to pay for 1.25 percent and the private sector 3.75 percent. In order to be able to do this, the government must increase its budget for science and technology by 10.8 percent annually. During the period more than 35 trillion won ($34 billion) needs to be invested.

This is an ambitious plan. Given the current financial circumstances, it isn’t easy to allot a such a massive budget continuously to the science and technology field. It isn’t easy for the government to propose research and development projects that would appeal to the private sector.

A basic plan for science and technology is a blueprint for the country’s future. The plan’s goal can be achieved when a science and technology policy leads to industry and economic policies aimed at enhancing the country’s competitiveness. This is why the National Science and Technology Council, made up of ministers and private sector experts and supervised by the president, has discussed the plan and confirmed it as one of the most important the country has.

Unfortunately, the people are uninterested in the basic plan. The media is hardly paying any attention to it. This is not because of a lack of promotion or core content. Some say that the plan doesn’t actually reveal the president’s determination to develop science and technology.

The president must use all of his assets in coming up with a long-term policy. He must pour his philosophy, determination and experience into it.

When President Lee Myung-bak was the president of Hyundai Construction in the 1980s, he served as vice president of the Korea Atomic Industrial Forum and studied ways to become energy-independent.

When he was the chairman of the Hyundai resources development company, he traveled abroad to places like Russia to practice resource diplomacy.

When he was serving as Seoul mayor, the government stopped providing research grants to science and technology departments in the metropolitan area in the name of balanced development across the country. Lee then increased the city’s sponsorship of universities from a mere 3.1 billion won to a whopping 100 billion won all at once. When such devotion is given to science and technology policy, it will become successful.

The previous administration fought to become a science and technology powerhouse and doubled the budget for the field. The administration drew up its “IT 839 policy” to develop information technology. However, the administration lost its willpower as its term neared the end and the policy didn’t lead to a fostering of venture-capital, small and midsize companies or create new jobs. This should be a good lesson for the Lee administration.

The Lee government’s science and technology policy puts an emphasis on original technology research. The budget for this now only takes up 25 percent of the entire science and technology budget, but it will increase to half in 2012. The money will mostly go to universities and government-sponsored research institutes. This is good because more than 80 percent of highly educated people with master’s degrees or higher are working in this field.

As the ministries responsible for human resources development and science and technology have been integrated, we need to prepare a system in which the education of talented people and research and development are conducted in the same framework, and in which the results can be given back to society. Researchers should feel a responsibility to pay back the people for their research grants.

When a science and technology policy is combined with education reforms the effects will be maximized.

A science and technology policy should also be aimed at developing other areas. Organizations and research centers in the field have been created in a disorderly manner across the country. They should be evaluated as to whether they function well and science and technology clusters in local areas should be built.

What’s most urgent is to make a new information technology policy to enhance research and development and increase productivity in the field, and to combine this with a science and technology policy.

The government can successfully become a small and wise one if it pursues this goal.

*The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo Economic Research Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kwak Jae-won
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