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Seeking Regional Leadership in Science and Technology
Creating Relationships between Regional Experts throughout Asia
Seeking Regional Leadership in Science and Technology
  • By matthew
  • August 21, 2015, 02:45
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President of the Korea Institute of S&T Evaluation and Planning Park Youngah at her desk.
President of the Korea Institute of S&T Evaluation and Planning Park Youngah at her desk.


Business Korea met with Park Youngah, the current president of the Korea Institute of S&T Evaluation and Planning (KISTEP), former lawmaker of the 18th National Assembly, and former professor of physics at Myungji University, to talk about the current direction of the institute and hosting the first Asian Innovation Forum (AIF) on Aug. 19. She told us about her vision for KISTEP, plans for the future of the institute, and spoke about the strategy behind establishing the Asian STI Think Tanks Network (ASTN). Excerpts from the interview follow.

Would you tell us about the specific role and vision of KISTEP?

Established in 1999, KISTEP is unique as a government-affiliated institute in that it performs a comprehensive range of functions, including science and technology policy planning, budget allocation and coordination, and R&D performance evaluations.

As many know, Korea isn’t alone in embracing the so-called creative economy paradigm centered on science and technology advancement. Countries like the U.S., the U.K., Japan, and China have adopted a similar economic paradigm as a way of overcoming the economic downturn and ensuring the country’s competitiveness.

KISTEP leads the Creative Economy policy with its focus on enhancing national science and technology competitiveness. In addition, KISTEP is in charge of establishing a national technology policy and planning an operating system to back the policy.

In addition, through a strategic allocation of the government's R&D budget, KISTEP strives to effectively achieve science and technology policy goals and meet policy plans. For instance, in case of a large-scale national R&D program, KISTEP performs a separate feasibility study of the given program so that the government's R&D budget can be efficiently used. As such, through the assessment of the results of government-funded R&D programs, KISTEP strives to derive better results each time.

KISTEP also has to look ahead to determine future social trends, pro-actively selects the necessary technologies, and assess the level and impact of such technologies.

One of the key visions that KISTEP seeks to achieve is to create future value with its specialty in planning and evaluation. This vision is not restricted to national boundaries, but extends to global society. To this end, KISTEP seeks to build networks with international organizations, advanced economies, and developing countries, and thereby form a hub of knowledge exchange. Consequently, KISTEP aims to act as a global think tank by sharing science, technology, and innovation-based national development knowledge and experience with the global community. In this sense, hosting the first AIF is a good starting point for KISTEP in its path towards raising its global status.

What are the motivations for hosting the AIF? What are the expectations and hopes that KISTEP has for the event?

In the 21st century, the international community is paying greater attention to economic growth and science and technology development in Asia. They are also showing a special interest in the potential for future development in the region. Despite the fact that Asian countries increasingly move to engage in more R&D and innovation activities, the majority of them have little opportunity to share their development experience and strategies.

In the past 9 years, KISTEP has made continuous efforts in seeking cooperation among South Korea, Japan, and China in the science and technology policy field.  To this end, KISTEP has participated in policy seminars hosted by partner institutions from these three countries. Through the AIF, KISTEP expects to bring together not just leaders in the science, technology, and innovation fields from China, Japan, and South Korea, but also leading lights from all over Asia to exchange research results and policy trends, and the challenges of each country. Consequently, KISTEP hopes to build a platform for collaborative networks.

KISTEP hopes to strengthen global partnerships in the technology field and contribute to solving common problems faced by countries in the region. Moreover, through lively discussions and a collective search for directions for further development at the regularly held forums, KISTEP expects countries in Asia to be able to take the level of technological competency up a notch.

Would you introduce the agenda and main programs of the AIF? 

[[{"fid":"12446","view_mode":"body_image_right","fields":{"format":"body_image_right","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"President of KISTEP Park Youngah speaks about the government's science and technology policy at her office on Aug. 19.","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"alt":"President of KISTEP Park Youngah speaks about the government's science and technology policy at her office on Aug. 19.","height":571,"width":550,"class":"media-element file-body-image-right"},"link_text":null}]]The forum consists of two plenary sessions and three general sessions. During the plenary session on Aug. 25th, the speaker of the 19th National Assembly Chung Ui-hwa will provide a special keynote speech, followed by presentations by Park Youngah, the president of KISTEP, and Richard Stone, the international news editor of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

On the 26th, Chi Young-suk, the Chairman of Elsevier, and Michael Keenan, senior policy analyst of the OECD, will open plenary sessions. In the morning, an inauguration event for launching the ASTN is scheduled to be held. In the afternoon, the founding members, or agencies from member countries, of the ASTN will have time to introduce themselves and share issues, concerns, and areas of future cooperation.

Would you tell us about the motivations for launching the ASTN?

Through the ASTN, KISTEP hopes to build a platform where the science, technology, and innovation think tanks in Asian countries gather together and share innovation experiences. Both the AIF and ASTN aren’t just one-time events, but are launched with a long-term vision to build a cooperation network that will be both substantial and long lasting. With Asian science, technology, and innovation think tanks that KISTEP had previously signed MOUs with, and KISTEP’s major partner agencies joining as founding members, KISTEP is planning to expand the membership of the ASTN. Consequently, KISTEP hopes that the ASTN will grow into a representative think tank network in Asia where members discuss a world science and technology agenda and collectively seek solutions. To that end, KISTEP will make a continuous effort. We are expecting 13 institutions from 10 countries to be the founding members of the ASTN, and we hope to expand this list in the future.

The last question is a more general inquiry regarding the government's national science and technology policy. Many say that one of the challenges that Korea faces is its weakness in basic science. What types of efforts do you think the government is required to make to tackle that challenge?

Korea has achieved remarkable economic growth based on science and technological advances. However, the other side of the coin reveals the limitations of what is a seemingly remarkable success story. Korea’s science and technology development features a catch-up strategy focusing on rapid commercialization, which results in insufficient attention to basic science and technology. Unlike the previous paradigm which was marked by a myopic vision and a results-oriented approach, we need to have a brand new paradigm for R&D.

Basic research and the creation of new knowledge is the driving force for the creation of high-value industries and jobs. Nevertheless, given that the commercialization of basic research results is time-consuming, a country with a policy seeking fast results can’t expect meaningful research results.

We need to break with the tendency to prioritize a results-oriented strategy, as the latter critically undermines the advances in basic research. Rather, we need an alternative strategy to encourage researchers to actively engage in challenging and risk-taking research in the basic science field. To this end, it is important to have a consistent policy based on a long-term vision. Also, researchers need to be assured of safety and systematic long-term support in order to immerse themselves only in their studies, free from worries about failure. Once a free and creative atmosphere for basic research is provided, Korea will obtain the competency in basic science that will certainly enable the country to become a developed economy.