Like the UK, South Korea is also going through significant political change at the moment. At a time when both countries face an uncertain future with a number of challenges and opportunities, last week provided a forum to examine the relationship between the two countries through the lens of one of its most important aspects, namely science and technology cooperation. The occasion was the UK-South Korea Joint Committee on Science and Technology at the Royal Society, a biennial intergovernmental meeting which brought together representatives from both countries to discuss bilateral scientific relations and agree mechanisms for cooperation.
Engagement with South Korea is one of the Society’s international priorities. It is the world’s fifth largest R&D investor, one of the world’s highest proportional spenders on R&D, and one of the fastest growing in terms of R&D expenditure. The majority of South Korea’s R&D is performed by the industrial sector (74%), characterized by the chaebol – major international conglomerates such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai. However, the 2012 establishment of the Institute of Basic Science (IBS) with a US$3bn investment highlights the country’s commitment to becoming a leader in fundamental research. Recent high level visits by the current and previous Presidents of the Royal Society have accompanied an increase in cooperation which has seen the Society develop a productive partnership with IBS on two high level conferences, with a third conference planned for November in Daejeon, to focus on materials science and biological sciences.
Of particular interest at the Joint Committee was a presentation on the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and the South Korean government’s plans for the ‘intelligent information society’ – which included forecasts on the future of work, proposals for a data-based society, the application of intelligent IT to all industries, and the reform of social policies in the wake of increasing automation. These are areas of considerable interest for the Society which is currently involved in studies on machine learning and data governance.
There were also presentations on South Korea’s research strengths (collaborations with the UK are particularly numerous in physics, astronomy, engineering, medicine) and government policies (including expansion of its overseas development assistance), as well as a number of other aspects of science and research funding and policy from both countries.
South Korea has rapidly developed into one of the more important scientific nations in recent years, and it is not unreasonable to expect this trajectory to continue. It is hoped that the high-level links developed at bilateral fora such as this will be of great benefit to both of our nations in the years ahead.
Presentations from the meeting are available to download directly from our website here: