Human capital is one of the most important factors in determining the competitiveness of a nation. It is against this backdrop that governments try to recruit and retain highly educated professionals.
It is depressing, therefore, to learn that Korea is suffering from a serious brain drain, as shown by an index released by the International Institute for Management Development recently.
The Swiss-based IMD’s annual Brain Drain Index put South Korea at 4.63, ranking 37th among 60 countries. A score closer to 10 indicates less danger of brain drain. Since the number of humanities majors is small, the index covers mostly engineering and science majors.
There are more figures confirming the sad reality that many skilled professionals leave the country. A 2008 survey by the U.S.-based National Science Foundation Network showed that 54 percent of Koreans who obtained a doctorate in science, technology or health care in the U.S. remained there.
This trend was verified in a recent local survey conducted by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Evaluation and Planning. The survey of 1,478 people who hold doctorates in engineering and science found that 37 percent wanted to get a job overseas.
Another survey by the Science and Technology Policy Institute of Korea showed that 12,240 graduate students in science and engineering went abroad in 2011, 10 percent more than in 2008.
What’s more disturbing is that the outflow of talent was not that serious in the past. In 1995, the IMD’s Brain Drain Index for Korea was 7.53, which placed the country fourth in the world behind the United States, Norway and France.
The same U.S. Science Foundation Network survey found that from 1992-1995, only 20.2 percent of Koreans who obtained U.S. doctoral degrees remained there. However, the figure rose to 46.3 percent from 2000-2003.
This proves that the government and society as a whole have done little to catch up with the global trend of securing and retaining talent, which is essential for enhancing national competitiveness. This is ridiculous, given the fact that Korea’s research spending is the sixth-largest in the world in terms of size and second in terms of ratio to gross domestic product.
The nation cannot remain competitive if highly educated professionals, especially those in the science and engineering sectors, are fleeing the country in pursuit of, among other things, a better research environment and education for children. Concerted efforts are needed to retain domestic talent and attract such people from abroad.