The Uncertain Future of the Scientific World1)
The government's 2024 Budget was released on August 29. The total amount was set at 656.9 trillion won, which is an increase of 2.8% from this year. Among the areas where the budget has decreased compared to the 2023 budget, the R&D (Research and Development) field is highlighted, with a total decrease of 5.2 trillion won. It is notable as this is the first time that the government's R&D budget has decreased since 1991, and the budget has been reduced in areas that have long been maintained while the total government expenditure increased. R&D refers to a whole series of activities that develop basic knowledge through research and apply it to create new technologies. Such R&D is a contributing factor in researching the basic science that is needed to develop technologies such as semiconductors, automobiles, petrochemicals, and other major Korean exports. In this sense, the government's decision is aimed at achieving "R&D budget efficiency." The current government noted that the R&D budget had increased by 10 trillion won over the five years, and pointed out that the increased budget was being spent inefficiently. Accordingly, in August, the Ministry of Science and ICT released a report titled "Adjustment of R&D Budget Inefficiency in 2024," in which it announced plans to merge 108 projects by categorizing those with similar research purposes and methods or low policy priorities. The government will restructure the budget to reduce inefficiencies in financial operations.
The government's actions have raised concerns in the science and technology community. They argue that the R&D budget is used for various purposes, including labor costs for researchers and equipment costs, and if these elements are not met due to a lack of funding, research progress will be hampered. Shin Myung-ho, the policy chairman of the Korea Science and Technology Workers' Union, said, "The labor costs of student researchers conducting research projects should be resolved within the R&D budget, but if the R&D budget is reduced, it will be difficult to develop future talent." This means that cuts to student researchers' salaries could lead to a separation from the scientific community as students struggle to sustain their research activities. Others argue that the government's reductions are not designed to take into account the nature of basic knowledge research. Since basic knowledge research is focused on expanding knowledge by proving theories about general facts, it does not produce immediate results, which means that it requires long-term funding as an investment in the future rather than an immediate profit. As development projects such as in AI and the space industry are derived through the application of these basic knowledge research results, it is a factor that affects the technological competitiveness of the country. As R&D field is the future growth engine of the country, attention is drawn to government's behavior.
1) Lee Jung-ho, "Government R&D Targeted by 'Budget Diet'...'Growth Engine' Shrinks", The Kyunghyang Shinmun, August 29, 2023