⃛ as science escapes cuts in South Korea

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Recent stock market and currency turmoil has hit South Korea's economy hard, but despite this the government has approved a five-year science and technology innovation plan designed to increase government-funded research and development to boost economic growth.

Under the plan, approved last month by a senior government committee headed by the deputy prime minister, South Korea will increase the government expenditure allocated to R&D from 3.9 per cent to at least 5 per cent by 2002.

The government had previously planned to increase its total expenditure by 5.7 per cent next year, with R&D expenditure increaasing by 12.3 per cent to 3,088 billion won (US$1.82 billion). But the International Monetary Fund has asked for a 10 per cent cut in total government expenditure as part of its financial rescue package, and at least 10 trillion won is expected to be cut from the 1998 budget.

Government officials and academics expect Infrastructure and construction budgets to bear the brunt of the cuts, according to Yong Hwan Kim, director of the policy planning division of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The new five-year plan follows on the heels of the special law on science and technology innovation approved last July. The law was a response to severe criticism of South Korea's R&D policy, which was said to be grossly inadequate for fostering innovation.

The plan is designed to stimulate innovation-led economic growth and industrial development by modernizing South Korea's science and technology capability, bringing it up to the level of advanced industrialized countries.

Kim acknowledges that this will be "quite difficult" in the current economic climate, but argues that improving and increasing basic research is essential for future prosperity.

The academic community has welcomed the plan. But researchers will not escape the economic upset completely unscathed. The dramatic fall in South Korea's currency is making it increasingly expensive to buy scientific equipment from overseas.

The general budget cuts will be decided by the National Assembly next month.

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