South Korean scientists’ outcry over planned R&D budget cuts


South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol delivers remarks while touring NASA's Goddard Space Center.

South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk Yeol, had actually stated previously this year that he prepared to preserve R&D costs at 5% of GDP. Credit: Olivier Douliery/AFP by means of Getty

South Korea’s researchers have actually been left reeling after the federal government proposed significant cuts to the 2024 federal research study budget plan. Federal government costs on research study and advancement in the nation has actually been amongst the greatest on the planet, as a percentage of gdp, and the statement has actually stimulated an unusual protest from scientists.

Eo Hwak Lee, a nuclear engineer at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon and primary vice-chair of the Union for National Science and Technology Research, states that clinical unions and associations are collaborating for the very first time to demonstration. The union that Lee co-chairs has actually arranged interview and rallies, and has actually composed to the nation’s National Assembly in the hope of winning public assistance. They and other groups have actually penned open letters opposing the strategies.

The cuts, revealed by South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) on 22 August, are the very first to target science financing in more than 3 years. Given that 1991, the nation’s R&D budget plan has actually increased progressively, representing more than 4.5% of GDP in 2023, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD (see ‘Growing budget plan’). Even when South Korea experienced a monetary crisis in 1998, the research study budget plan stayed constant. And the nation’s president, Yoon Suk Yeol, stated previously this year that he prepared to preserve R&D costs at 5% to make the country among the world’s leading 5 nations for research study.

” It’s sort of a contradiction,” states So Young Kim, a science and innovation political researcher at KAIST. According to the National Research Council of Science and Technology, which represents federal government organizations, companies such as the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information and the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology might see cuts of 28%; extremely ranked research study organizations, such as KAIST, might have their budget plans cut by 10%.

Growing Budget: Line chart comparing gross domestic spending on R&D as percentage of GDP in South Korea with other regions.

Source: OECD.

The federal government has actually protected its choice. In a news release, it summed up the function of the proposed cuts– which should still be authorized by South Korea’s National Assembly in December– as “making [the] federal government R&D system as it must be”. The MSIT prepares to remove tasks that it recognizes as underperforming and to lower indirect expenses, such as those for research study facilities and devices. According to the ministry, R&D costs grew by almost 50% throughout the pandemic years from 20.5 trillion won in 2019 to 31.1 trillion won in 2023– the company states that much of this was to react to COVID-19 and assistance companies.

The ministry stated that it would increase its financial investment in 7 particular locations, consisting of expert system and semiconductors, although assistance for fundamental research study would visit more than 6% in favour of global collective tasks.

” Globally, impressive research study accomplishments primarily come from collective efforts within research study groups nowadays,” an MSIT representative informed Nature South Korean researchers, the individual states, have actually not teamed up as much as those in Europe and the United States, either locally or globally, so the federal government prepares to broaden the budget plan for global research study exchange.

It designated 2.8 trillion won (US$ 2 billion) to global tasks such as the Boston– Korea Project for Biosciences, which intends to produce relate to companies in the biotech cluster in Boston, Massachusetts.

But Kei Cho, a neuroscientist at King’s College London and co-founder of the UK– Korea Neuroscience Consortium, states that global cooperations need more than simply moneying to get off the ground. The federal government will require to develop facilities, such as research study centres and big information banks, and sustain assistance for tasks over an extended period, he states.

Sinking spirits

The possibility of long-lasting cooperation may not suffice for a more youthful generation of graduates in science, mathematics, engineering and innovation (STEM), who currently deal with a scarcity of tasks needing top-level credentials, such as PhDs. “There has actually been a growing understanding that STEM professions are less steady and less financially rewarding than other fields,” states Dongheon Lee, the president of the KAIST Graduate Student Association. “The R&D budget plan cuts will just serve to enhance these unfavorable understandings.” In August, Dongheon Lee’s association and 6 other graduate and undergraduate companies co-signed an open letter stating that the cuts would injure research study quality.

Even if the cuts do not proceed, the propositions have actually currently injured spirits, states retired theoretical physicist Doochul Kim, a previous president of South Korea’s Institute for Basic Science. “You can not prepare for long-lasting tasks which take years to style,” he states. “Most significantly, you lose self-confidence in the future.”


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