Korea's Need for Scientists and Engineers
Ji-Seong, Ryu, Young-Il, Bae, Hak-Sang, Kim, SERI Quarterly
As Korea moved up the postwar economic ladder, its most vital investment was in human capital. The government invested in technical high schools and colleges that produced engineers for the chemical and mechanical industries in the 1970s, and information technology (IT) industries including electronics, computers, and telecommunications in the 1980s and thereafter.
Thanks to such massive investments in science and technology, exports from heavy industry accounted for nearly half of Korea's exports by 1983, a four-fold increase from 1970. Korea made another drastic change in shifting from heavy industry to high technology. Exports from the IT industry, which were only 12.2% in 1988, accounted for 32% of shipments in 2000. Figure 1 shows how the number of Korean college freshmen majoring in science and engineering has been changed over the past 35 years.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY TALENT IN KOREA
Today, the nation's economic model, built on reverse engineering and applied technology, is giving way to knowledge-based growth. That makes the need for a deep pool of engineers and scientists as critical as ever. At first glance, Korea appears to have an adequate head count. In 2004, Korea had 239 bachelor's degree holders per 100,000 persons in science and engineering, twice as many as the US or Germany. However, Korea does not retain its own talent. Many science and engineering undergraduates either divert their career paths to other fields or pursue graduate degrees abroad and never return. Thus, it is an urgent challenge to fill science and engineering positions that require doctoral degrees.
One option is to recruit foreign professionals. However, this too presents fundamental problems. Language barriers, the high cost of living, a hierarchical corporate culture, and other challenges of working and living in Korea can make it a tough sell. As of 2004, foreigners in science and technology positions comprised less than 1% of expatriate job holders in Korea.
Another option is to produce more homegrown professionals. However, this would be possible only if proper measures are adopted and Korean science and engineering graduate schools elevated their standards. To this end, Korea needs to embrace an elite education policy that can produce scientists and engineers of global quality. Four tasks need to be executed: create global-level research-oriented universities, nurture an academic environment for math and science, promote global networking, and diversify career paths of scientists and engineers.
In general, the national labor supply moves in tandem with labor demand from major industries. Because Korea has developed its economy through industries such as chemicals, shipbuilding, steel, and electronics, these industries usually exhibit higher labor demand than others. Thus, Korea has produced much more engineering PhDs than science PhDs. Japan and China have experienced the same trend. On the other hand, the US, the UK, and Germany have produced more science PhDs than engineering PhDs, and so has India. Table 1 shows there were 6.4 science and engineering doctorates in Korea per 100,000 persons. That is far fewer than the number per 100,000 persons in the UK (11.7) or Germany (11) but many more than Japan (4.3), China (1.0), and India (0.5). While Korea produce relatively more doctorates, the latest estimates shows a shortage of 9,000 doctoral degree holders in engineering and 300 in science. It is noteworthy that the number of science and engineering PhDs produced in China is increasing. Since 2000, China has produced more engineering PhDs than Japan. In addition, China has produced more science PhDs than Korea has since 1991 and surpassed Japan in this respect in 1994.
Figure 2 describes the number of science and engineering doctoral degrees produced in four Asian countries since the 1980s.
Reasons for Shortage
There are three primary …
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Publication information: Article title: Korea's Need for Scientists and Engineers. Contributors: Ji-Seong, Ryu - Author, Young-Il, Bae - Author, Hak-Sang, Kim - Author. Magazine title: SERI Quarterly. Volume: 1. Issue: 2 Publication date: July 2008. Page number: 29+. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.