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South Korea - should be a model for Bangladesh in S&T development

2013-06-25 06:23:43

South Korea is one of the leading economically developed countries (12th largest economy in the world and 4th largest in Asia) at the moment. This country developed not only in economic and business sector but also there has been a rapid improvement in the field of science and technology at world-class level. It is interesting to mention that the economic condition of this Korean peninsula was very critical in 1960s, just about 50 years back. The per-capita income was not mentionable, less than $1100/year in 1961 [http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2054405,00.html]! From that situation, how this country became one of the leading developed countries not only economically but also in the scientific field could be a very good investigation to find out the inherent reason and be helpful for the developing countries like Bangladesh to follow and learn from it.


Initiation of South Korea’s Scientific Development

South Korea began a serious effort to develop science and technology policy soon after a military coup d’état led to the presidency of Park Chung Hee. Technology policy making changed greatly in the years of military rule. During the Third Republic (1963-1972), the president made most major policy decisions, in consultation with a few key advisors. The state focused on development of basic institutions to support the adaptation of foreign technology. These included the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), one of the first government organs in the developing world dedicated to technological development, and the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), a government R&D facility dedicated to applied technology. The U.S. government provided seed money and an administrative consultation team to help with the institute’s set-up, as well as continuing assistance. For the first five years, KIST established operations and hired staff, and only began to do research work in the 1970s. The state also established the Korean Advanced Institute of Science (KAIS), intended as one of the first science and engineering universities in the developing world. KAIS was later renamed Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), and today is Korea’s leading technological institute.


Direction and Acceleration in Innovative R&D

In 1980s, the Korean Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) supported basic and applied research through KIST and its specialized research institutes, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MOTIE), which promoted extensive industrial research. MOST is now called the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST), and MOTIE became the Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE). From 1980s, the National R&D Program (NRDP) had been the focus of MOST’s activities. This was greatly improved by a major new program: the 21st Century Frontier R&D Program, which began in 1999 to develop science and technology competitiveness in emerging fields. In this regards, the government invested about $3.5 billion over the subsequent decade into twenty-three projects in such emerging fields as bioscience, nanotechnology, and space technology. The most important thing of Korea’s scientific development seems that the policy of this country focuses a ‘vision’ in each decade and run toward that vision for long term implementation. To make the ‘vision’ successful, various research projects such as Brain Korea 21 (BK21), National Research Laboratory (NRL), Korea Research Foundation (KRF) and others were established which chose the research centers of excellence and aimed at improving competitiveness in the research qualities.


IT Industry and Biotechnology Lead the Way of South Korea’s Progress

Over the past seventeen years, Korea has become one of the leading IT nations. It ranked number one among 152 countries on the ICT Development Index in 2011, followed by the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Finland. The Index measures the level of IT development of International Telecommunications Union (ITU) countries. It uses three measures: accessibility, use and competence. Korea ranked first in use, second in competence, but only tenth in accessibility. Koreans are also rated highly in internet access (first), number of wireless broadband subscribers (first), and wired broadband subscribers (fourth). How did Korea climb to the top in only a few years? The state is widely regarded as having created the IT sector. In the 1980s, state research organizations developed telephone-switching systems, and an IT policy think tank recommended full privatization of the industry. By the mid-1990s, a thorough liberalization began, as several new firms entered the market. Now it is important to understand - what were the major state efforts? First, state intervention has encouraged close ties between public organizations and private sectors. Second, the state has built infrastructure - mainly through wired and wireless broadband networks. Third, the state coordinated R&D and mediated disputes between private and public sectors through its research and policy organizations. Fourth, the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) has led IT development since the mid-1990s by introducing several key development plans. Fifth, Korea has computerized most of the government operations (what it calls e-Government). Finally, in 2001, the government created a “Gold Visa” to allow more foreign IT researchers to work in Korea.

Biotechnology has a shorter history in Korea than IT but, over the past decade, has grown substantially. In the 1990s, universities and a few pharmaceutical firms pursued most R&D, but Korea now has a diversified R&D capacity in bio-science and product development. Medical uses account for nearly sixty percent of the industry, by income, and food products amount to nearly forty percent. The industry bounced back from a major scandal involving human biotech experiments, and now boasts roughly 600 firms, most of which are located in the Seoul area. In each industry, over half of the employees are researchers, and the rest them work in the production. The industry produced $2.42 billion in volume, along with $1.1 billion in exports, in 2004.

All these efforts have made a very strong academic relation among the universities and the research institutes and connected a bridge between academic sector and industrial applications. At the moment, Seoul National University (SNU) is ranked number one university in South Korea and placed within the top 40 universities in the world in terms of scientific research, article publications and citations. Beside SNU, other universities in Korea also have high standard and world-class research facilities for R&D and several of them ranked within the top 100/200 universities in the world ranking.


Prospects for Bangladesh

It is worthy to mention that there must have an intimate correlation among the R&D system between universities and industries (both government and private companies). Besides governmental research organizations, many private companies employ extensive budget for R&D each year both at the industry as well as at the universities in South Korea. This could be one of the strategies to be utilized in Bangladesh where the big companies (The existing pharmaceutical companies & IT industries and more can be established) can come up and consider to support for innovative R&D in universities and research institute besides governmental fund not only for basic research but also implement that research in their industrial capacity (may have good prospects for them to make more business as well).

The government of Bangladesh should take more initiative for higher education and research-based education at post-graduate level in the universities to develop more skilled personnel for R&D. For this, various specific research projects should be launched with a strong ‘vision’ in most of the universities and research institute where various expert personnel can be hired (even from abroad; there are many Bangladeshi experts working abroad with reputation who want to return back if they get proper research facilities) and created competitiveness in research environment. The funding support and research incentives can be provided each year for the excellence in research activity among the research groups, which will make more competitiveness to perform qualitative as well as quantitative research.

It is awful to see, yet true, that there are no real connection between the results of academic research and their industrial application in Bangladesh so far. Thus, besides the own willingness, the government has to have the policy to encourage private sectors to come up and show their eagerness for scientific research in their industry and make a bridge with academic sector. The success of all these issues in Bangladesh is not that easy for sure, but we have to think and start these policies by learning from scientific developments in other countries where we can follow the Science &Technology policy of South Korea.

As a person of biotechnology background, I personally think that this area has enormous potential for outmost scientific achievement in Bangladesh if government policy and private sector constructively support and perform R&D both in public and private institute. Furthermore, Bangladesh must devise appropriate policy and budget enough investment to make best use of her huge number of meritorious science graduates brought out every year, utilizing whom other countries are making progress day by day.



  1. Joel R. Campbell, Building an IT Economy: South Korean Science and Technology Policy, Issues in Technology Innovation, Number 19, September 2012.


  1. Donald Gregg, ‘Park Chung Hee’, Time World, August 23, 1999. [http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2054405,00.html]
Editors Notes:    0

The opinions expressed and information shared are those of the writer's and commentators; do not necessarily reflect that of Scientific Bangladesh.Scientific Bangladesh accepts no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for the accuracy or content of writers' and commentators' opinion and information.

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