[Letters] Where is the scholarship program now?

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[Letters] Where is the scholarship program now?

Member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries and the BRIC countries are engaged in intense competition to acquire a leading share in all areas. Unless you become the first to move and pre-empt market share, you are bound to be a follower. The iPhone and iPad showed the world what it means to be a market leader.

The most important condition to become the first mover is knowledge. Humanities such as literature, history and philosophy, and fundamental sciences such as mathematics, physics and chemistry become the foundation. Individual creativity blooms on top of such a foundation, and the collection of individual creativity becomes a collective intelligence through collaboration and competition.

This is true of the foundation of national wealth and the backbone of leadership.

Seoul introduced a scholarship program six years ago to bring about a breakthrough in fundamental sciences and the humanities. It is a future-oriented policy that will allow scholars to focus on research and studies without worrying about money. Ph.D. candidates are provided with 2.5 to 3 million won ($2,230 to $2,676) per semester to cover tuition fees. About 600 students receive the scholarship each year.

Mr. H, a graduate student at a university in Seoul, had a dilemma on his hands when he completed his master’s program. He was not sure if he could continue his research in the chemistry program. And because of his tuition burden, he almost gave up a career in academia.

Fortunately, he applied for the Hi Seoul Scholarship’s graduate school science research program and was able to continue his studies. Later, a paper he wrote was published in a prestigious academic journal, and he received a special award as well. The scholarship made his dreams come true, and in a very short period of time, Mr. H’s life was completely changed.

Mr. H is not the only student who benefitted from the scholarship program. Thousands of students have received assistance from the City of Seoul and found their desire to study. It is not just an individual triumph. The citizens of Seoul became involved in the public project to educate the talented scholars who will be leading the future of Korea.

But the scholarship program disappeared suddenly. The Seoul Metropolitan Council cut the 2001 budget for the program entirely. While Seoul repeatedly talked about the importance of the scholarship program, the appeal may not have been enough to change the city council’s mind. In order to produce a doctor of basic science, the university, the local community and the nation have to work together and provide assistance for the student.

The elimination of the scholarship program is sure to make the aspiring and talented students around the country disappointed when they are asked to lead the country in the future.

By Yoon Jae-ung, a professor of Korean Language Education at Dongguk University
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