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South Korea to promote joint use of research equipment among local universities

South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has recently announced plans to pilot a Core Research Facility (CRF) in support of its “Na-Nweo-Sseul-Lae” or “Will You Share it” Task Force initiative for enhancing efficient usage of the country’s research equipment. The new “Core Research Facility” will complement the existing Zone for Equipment Utilisation Service (ZEUS).

In a press release by the Ministry, the Core Research Facility is intended to promote joint and efficient usage as well as clearer management of South Korea’s research equipment facilities, particularly those present in local universities. The CRF will “support basic equipment operation and data interpretation”. 

By tapping onto research assets in universities, it is hoped that research equipment in local universities can accessed by a wider range of research professionals beyond professors or graduate students. This goal is in line with the purpose of The Ministry of Science and ICT’s “Will You Share it” Task Force initiative, which comprises various public research institutes, research equipment users, managers and development specialists.

From 1 September to 31 December this year, the Ministry of Science and ICT will select 3 research facilities such as university research labs and collect research equipment, categorising them according to specific fields of research. Post-collation, the Ministry of Science and ICTwill then determine the necessary expenses for the initial setup of the CRF, taking into consideration costs such as equipment transfer, repair and maintenance, and equipment operations training expenses. The Ministry has currently budgeted 20 million won for each selected facility.

By compiling all available research assets onto the Core Research Facility, a breakdown in a local research facility management system will not hinder research works as researchers are now able to continue accessing research assets via the central management platform provided by the CRF.   

The CRF pools together research equipment from individual research laboratories across the country, enhancing equipment utilisation rates and boosting research productivity.

At present, South Korea’s researchers are able to tap onto the ZEUS. A joint project between the National Research Facilities and Equipment Center and the Ministry of Science and ICT, ZEUS is a comprehensive online portal that “utilises the best equipment in (South Korea) to provide the best serves to organise information” so as to maximise utilisation of national research (assets)”.  

In 2017, it is estimated that 181 research equipment were transferred between institutions via ZEUS. While both the CRF and ZEUS are research asset management platforms, CRF differs from ZEUS in that CRF focuses on under-utilised research assets in university laboratories; research equipment registered under the CRF will also be registered under ZEUS.

“With support from (both ZEUS and CRF), the joint use of existing (research assets) will be expanded and existing facilities will (be enhanced)”, said Lee Tae-Hee, Director of the Performance Evaluation Policy Bureau under the Ministry’s Science, Technology and Innovation Office. “I hope this will be a chance to solidify the foundation (of South Korea’s research network)”. 

The pilot run of the CRF will provide a litmust test in addressing the country’s complex research assessment and management systems, as well as consolidate research efforts between public research institutes and universities.

As of December 2017, South Korea’s expenditure in research and development as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) is the world’s highest. South Korean R&D intensity is highest in the world, at 4.23%. 

Despite heavy investments in R&D, South Korean R&D initiatives have not translated into an equally high research commercialisation rate — lack of coordination in research, poor research management systems and a dismal number of public-private research partnerships have been highlighted as key factors for the country’s underperformance.

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