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South Korea holds joint discussion on national innovation strategy

South Korea’s Academy of Science and Technology, the National Engineering Academy of Korea and the National Academy of Medicine of Korea have recently held a joint discussion on 5th June at the Korea Press Center in Seoul. Focusing on the theme of designing a “National R&D Innovation Strategy”, the joint discussion provided a platform for consultation and policy feedback.

According to a press release by South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT, the joint discussion was intended to be a consultative feedback session for government policymakers to garner opinions from the epistemic community in science and technology research in preparation of the release of an upcoming “National R&D Innovation Plan”, as well as for the eventual upgrading of the country’s National Innovation System.

The “National R&D Innovation Plan” is part of the Moon administration’s initiatives to prepare the South Korean economy and society for the “4th Industrial Revolution”. In addition to providing new opportunities for research and development, particularly in the field of advanced technologies such as AI, Internet-of-Things and Big Data, the upcoming “National R&D Innovation Plan” is expected to revamp the country’s ageing National Innovation system by adopting a more people-oriented approach.

There is currently no universal definition of the concept of a “National Innovation System”. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a national innovation system refers to the web of linkages or interactions between actors such as universities, private enterprises and public research institutions; linkages can assume the form of “joint research, personnel exchanges, cross-patenting, purchase of equipment and a variety of other channels”.

National Innovation Systems can be assessed according to 4 criteria: Interactions among enterprises, interactions among enterprises, universities, and public research research institutes, diffusion of knowledge and technology to enterprises, as well as personnel mobility within these linkages.

Prior to the joint discussion, two presentations relevant to the prospects of South Korea’s National Innovation System were given: the first, by Director of Science and Technology Policy Bureau Ryu Gwang-Joon, emphasised a macro framework for people-oriented, or human-centred, R&D innovation, and stressed the need to enhance the “innovative competencies” of public and private enterprises to seek “scientific and technological solutions for social issues; the second, given by Deputy General Director of the Academy of Science and Technology Yoo Wook-Jun, reiterated past scientific and technological achievements that contributed to the economic development of South Korea.

“Present R&D management systems since the past industrial revolution have reached their limits”, said Im Dae - Sik, Director of the Science, Technology and Innovation Office. “(There is) a need for a new R&D system that emphasises the autonomy and creativity of our researchers”. Additionally, Director Im also called for stronger public-private cooperation is establishing a “national R&D system centred on people and society”.

The joint discussion on South Korea’s “National R&D Innovation Strategy” comes amidst mounting concerns over lacklustre R&D growth. The dominance of the country’s conglomerates , or chaebols, extends even to research and development, and R&D activities are largely concentrated on them as well as and state-run research institutes. Other concerns regarding the prospects of South Korea’s R&D initiatives include bureaucratic inefficiency, lack of originality and over-reliance of small-medium enterprises (SMEs) on the chaebol.

The Ministry of Science and ICT will review the opinions gathered from the joint discussion prior to  finalising and implementing the “National R & D Innovation Plan”. The “National R&D Innovation Plan” is expected to be implemented via consultation with the Presidential Advisory Council on Science and Technology (PACST) in the first half of this year.

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