South Korea Ramps Up R&D Spending

On September 26, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Evaluation and Planning, a government-affiliated research institute operating under the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, released the English edition of its biannual report on R&D survey and analysis, entitled “Main Science and Technology Indicators 2016–1.” The data in the publication is largely based on the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development’s global R&D survey and statistics analysis up to June.

South Korea has been among the top 10 countries worldwide for R&D expenditure since 2010. In 2014, South Korea ranked sixth in global Gross Domestic Expenditure on R&D (GERD), with 4.29% of the country’s GDP going towards R&D, up 14 basis points from 2013. As a percentage of GDP, South Korea’s GERD has topped the US, Japan, Germany, France, the UK and China since 2011. In 2014, Japan trailed behind South Korea in GERD as a percentage of GDP (3.59%), followed by Germany (2.90%) and France (2.26%).

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Future and emerging technologies are a particular focus of GERD in South Korea. Information technology had the greatest GERD in 2014, with expenditure of KRW 21.94 trillion ($19.3 billion = KRW 1,105 = $1) in 2014, up 8.3%. GERD for nanotechnology was KRW 8.44 trillion ($7.4 billion) in 2014, down one basis point from 2013, followed by environment technology with KRW 6.56 trillion ($5.8 billion) and biotechnology at KRW 4.81 trillion ($4.2 billion), which increased one basis point and decreased one basis point, respectively, from 2013.

By region, Gyeonggi has experienced the greatest R&D expenditure between 2011 and 2014, fluctuating between 41% and 49% of the country’s GERD. In 2014, Gyeonggi accounted for 49% of the country’s GERD, with KRW 31.03 trillion ($27.3 billion) in expenditures. Seoul followed Gyeonggi, with the city’s GERD representing between 15% and 18% of the country’s R&D expenditure from 2011 to 2014. Seoul accounted for 15%, or KRW 9.63 trillion ($8.5 billion), in 2014, while Daejeon represented 10%, or KRW 6.33 trillion ($5.6 billion), of the nation’s GERD.

The private sector has been significant in contributing to the country’s R&D expenditure for the last five years. Business enterprises in South Korea have had the greatest GERD since 2011. In 2014, KRW 49.9 trillion ($43.9 billion), or 78% of GERD were from business enterprise, with government/private non-profit following with KRW 8.11 trillion ($7.3 billion), or 13% and higher education representing KRW 5.77 trillion ($5.3 billion), or 9% of GERD. Since 2011, the majority of GERD funding came from private sources, with the private sector providing KRW 48.0 trillion ($43.4 billion), or 75%, of funding in 2014. The government financed KRW 15.28 trillion ($13.8 billion), or 24%, of GERD funding, and international sources provided KRW 450.8 billion ($407.9 million), or 1% in 2014. The majority of South Korea’s GERD goes to development research (63%), followed by applied research (19%) and basic research (18%).

R&D spending by startups and small- medium-sized businesses have experienced steady growth between 2011 and 2014. For all business enterprises, 5% of Business Enterprise Expenditure on R&D (BERD) was financed by the government in 2014, down four basis points from 2013. However, for small- and medium-sized businesses and startups, 14% of BERD came from the government in 2014, up 6 basis points from 2013 and 150 basis points from 2011.

Large corporations have had the greatest BERD since 2011, accounting for 78%, or KRW 38.61 trillion ($34.9 billion), of expenditures in 2014, up 1.0% from 2013. Small- and medium-sized business followed, representing 12% of BERD, and startup companies accounted for 11% in 2014.

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Biotechnology is a growing sector for South Korea, with production expenditure steadily increasing since 2011 to reach KRW 7.59 trillion ($6.9 billion) in 2014. The domestic demand for biotechnology reached KRW 5.59 trillion ($5.1 billion) in 2014, down 2.4% from 2013. However, biotechnology exports and imports increased 7.6% and 0.7% to reach KRW 3.4 trillion ($3.1 billion) and KRW 1.4 trillion ($1.3 billion), respectively, in 2014. Biotechnology R&D and production personnel has also been steadily growing from 2011 to 2014, increasing 11.7% over the four-year period. 

Research institutes in South Korea have had the greatest Government Expenditure on R&D (GOVERD) from 2012 to 2015, with expenditures hovering around 45%. In 2015, research institutes accounted for 47%, or KRW 8.78 trillion ($7.9 billion), of GOVERD, followed by universities (23%) and business enterprises (21%). Ministries represented 3.3% of GOVERD in 2015.

Just as with the country’s GERD, development research accounts for the greatest government R&D expenditure, representing 38%, or KRW 5.03 trillion ($4.6 billion), of the country’s GOVERD. Unlike the country’s GERD, however, the government spent a greater amount on basic research (38%) than applied research (20%).

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By ministry, the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning represented the highest GOVERD, accounting for 34%, or KRW 6.47 trillion ($5.9 billion), in 2015, the same figure as 2013. Food and drug safety has accounted for 0.4% of GOVERD since 2013. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy had represented around 18% of GOVERD since 2013, and GOVERD on small- and medium-sized businesses has accounted for approximately 5% since 2013. The Ministry of Education’s GOVERD increased KRW 507 billion ($458.7 million) but it decreased four basis points, falling to 9% in 2015.

Similar to South Korea’s GERD, when it comes to future and emerging technologies in South Korea, government R&D expenditure for information technology was the greatest in 2015, at 19%, or KRW 3.34 trillion ($3.0 billion), up 6 basis points from 2014. Biotechnology GOVERD followed closely behind at KRW 3.30 trillion ($3.0 billion), increasing 6 basis points, and environment technology GOVERD was KRW 393 billion ($355.6 million), down 140 basis points from 2014.

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GOVERD by region was distributed slightly differently from GERD, though the top three cities remained the same. Government R&D expenditure in 2015 was greatest in Daejeon, with the city representing 30.0%, or KRW 5.46 trillion ($4.9 billion). Seoul accounted for 20.1% and Gyeonggi, which had the highest GERD, accounted for 14.4% in 2015.


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