The Korean government is increasingly looking toward universities to help keep the country’s economic growth sustainable.
The hope is that innovative research by universities will generate new products, create jobs and eventually new industry.
Korea, however, should be more “careful and realistic” about future economic growth, says Nicholas Vonortas, a leading expert on science and technology policy.
“Korea is in a major transition period now, but I don’t think that many people realize that when the country has developed and reached a certain level, this speed of growth of 6-8 percent is gone. Korea will never have this again,” he said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.
“If Korea wants to maintain its growth it has to rely on itself, not to imitate others. The creative economy is necessary.”
The government is expecting to create over 650,000 new jobs over the next five years by promoting innovative start-ups and emulating young entrepreneurs as part of creative economy drive.
But he was critical of the plan, noting: “People think creative economy means jobs, but actually the two are not the same thing.”
He explained that only 3 percent of small and medium-sized companies here can be categorized as knowledge-intensive companies, while the majority are still in labor-intensive industries.
“Jobs will still be created by the 97 percent of (other) companies.”
Vonortas is professor of economics and international affairs at the George Washington University in the U.S. He is also the co-editor of the peer reviewed journal Science and Public Policy.
He visited Seoul recently to prepare a special report on research commercialization and evaluation here at the request of the Korean government. He also gave a keynote speech about university start-ups at the Asian Research Policy forum held by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Evaluation and Planning.
In order to promote high-tech and knowledge-intensive companies, he said, transferring knowledge from universities to industries will be crucial.
He pointed out that the United States first gave intellectual property rights to universities after passing the Bayh Dole Act in 1980. But university start-ups and spin-offs are still not making money in the U.S., he said.
“The problem is that industries think very differently from universities. And what the universities want to sell is still far away from the market.”
Vonortas suggested the Korean government give practical support and incentives to universities to promote partnerships with business.
He also noted that teaching children to learn and develop entrepreneurship from an early age helps them to be more creative and self-confident.
For this reason the Korean government is now looking to introduce entrepreneurship training from primary school through to university.
“In my class, students from Korea are very good students, they’re always in class, take very good notes, write very good exams, but they contribute zero to the discussion in the class, because they learned this way.”
“If you are going to be serious with the creative economy, you need to change the education system first,” he added.
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org