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[Editorial] Global talent

Efficient programs needed to attract foreign experts

The most common criticism against Korean government officials may be that they often lack continuity, consistency and connectivity in implementing policies. This problem is starkly revealed in the endeavor to attract top global talent in science and technology to the country.

Since 2008, the government has spent more than 700 billion won ($664 million) inviting a total of 583 talented foreigners under ambitious projects to nurture world-class research-focused universities and other research institutes. Currently, only 84 of these foreign specialists remain in Korea, according to figures from government ministries.

Some might have had their own reasons to return home or move to a third country, but their mass exit is attributed largely to the lack of an efficient system that offers comprehensive and continued support on a long-term basis. As policies to attract foreign scientists and researchers focus on funding one-off and time-limited programs, they usually have no choice but to leave the country on the termination of a contract, even when they want to continue to stay here or need more time to finish their work.

As well, the number of research and development staff and technical experts employed in local industrial sectors has also been decreasing, in contrast to a rising influx of foreign professionals in other fields, including lawyers, accountants, private instructors and entertainers.

This trend is undesirable and worrisome, as hosting more qualified foreign talent in science and technology has become a key element of a country’s international competitiveness in this era of expansive globalization.

Korea, in particular, is in more need of talented foreign researchers and engineers, as many local students are reluctant to study natural sciences and engineering, and Korean experts with degrees from foreign schools hesitate to return home. Under current conditions, the country will have a shortage of up to 12,000 senior-level researchers by 2022, according to estimates by the Korea Institute of Science & Technology Evaluation and Planning.

International competition to attract global talent is intensifying as demands for such specialists rise in most nations at a time when the cross-border movement of human capital is growing. Korea should pull ahead of other countries in this competition if it is to achieve a truly advanced economy with strengthened R&D capacity and enhanced industrial structure.

To achieve this, the country has a lot of work to do, as shown in this year’s Global Talent Competitiveness Index announced by INSEAD, one of the world’s leading graduate business schools, last month. Korea ranked 28th in the list of 103 nations, a poor standing considering its status as a major economic powerhouse.

The government should work out more comprehensive and consistent measures to attract more foreign talent through close coordination among relevant agencies. Then it should implement these measures from a long-term viewpoint.

The current system, under which 16 central government ministries and provincial administrations run more than 40 programs separately, must be streamlined and interconnected to provide foreign scientists and researchers with support tailored to help them settle in smoothly, work efficiently and stay longer.

Policymakers should draw up specific plans for deploying foreign talent in selected areas that urgently need to enhance their international competitiveness. It is also necessary to help them extend their stay after a contract is terminated by offering opportunities to take other jobs here or keep in touch with them after they leave the country.
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Korea Herald daum