South Korea

Science in South Korea is thriving, with R&D accounting for 4% of GDP in 2016. Among the projects in which the country has invested are research networks and facilities, such as the Institute for Basic Science, and a x-ray free-electron laser facility in Pohang, to name a few. However, the R&D system in South Korea is due for major revamping as data indicates that the more the country invests, the less it gets back.

A major reason for this is the method in which the federal government distributes R&D funds. For example, in 2017, 94% of the South Korean R&D budget went to large, federally directed projects revolving around strategic research areas such as biotechnology, information technology, materials and robotics, while small research groups were allocated only the remaining 6%. This issue was one of much contention, and was a highly debated scientific issue in last year’s presidential election.

There are three key issues in South Korea’s R&D system. Firstly, basic research is extremely underfunded, with only $1.2 billion, or 7%, of the country’s 2017 research budget of $18 million going towards individual investigators and small groups working on basic research projects. Also, very few funds from the country’s R&D budget are allocated to research infrastructure at academic institutions and researchers looking for startup grants. Secondly, R&D produces many patents in South Korea, but these patents do not necessarily result in actual innovation. Government-devised projects are partly to blame for this, as they are usually not well-designed and lack strategic roadmaps and long-term goals.

Lastly, scientific R&D in the country is not necessarily geared towards pressing public concerns. For example, South Korea has the highest global proportional rate of people aged 65 and above, with Alzheimer’s and other diseases becoming more prevalent; however, there are no government R&D strategies to tackle these issues. The South Korean government is beginning to take steps to address these issues through policy changes.

Source: Nature

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