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KAIST targets global top 10 with new talent, research programs

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology President Lee Kwang-hyung (KAIST)
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology President Lee Kwang-hyung (KAIST)
South Korea’s top science and technology institution is seeking to strengthen its globalization efforts and provide unique research opportunities in hopes of becoming one of the top 10 universities in the world within the next 20 years.

Lee Kwang-hyung, president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, said in a press briefing Thursday that the school will focus on nurturing creative scholars, have them engage in novel research fields and thereby improve the competitiveness of the university.

As a means to improve the overall creativity and leadership skills of students, Lee said KAIST will have students devote less time on research studies while they practice more leadership skills and read more books.

“Our students at KAIST are brilliant minds, but often times they do not know what (to research) and where to start,” Lee said.

“KAIST students study too much. It is important for them to have dreams, and I think letting them look at the world extensively and giving them opportunities is key.”

The KAIST president seeks to foster talent in digital humanities, which would entail producing humanities experts armed with artificial intelligence and big data skillsets. Lee said KAIST has specialized talent in grooming experts in those fields, which can help the university become more prestigious.

On top of running research programs on AI and big data, Lee said KAIST will recruit 100 more faculty members in these novel fields over the next four years as a means to look for opportunities in the post-AI era.

He said KAIST can grow in size and value by having its members imagine how the world will have changed in 20 years after AI becomes part of people’s daily lives.

And to grow its presence on the international scale, KAIST will increase the proportion of international faculty members to 15 percent and invite more international students to have them take up 15 percent of the whole student body. The institution also looks to recruit more female researchers.

On top of changing up demographics, Lee vowed to launch more international exchange programs, open research centers overseas and dispatch students and professors to foreign countries. The university will also establish collaborative research centers with foreign institutions and keep an eye out for global business opportunities with research ideas.

As a means to help students engage in businesses with their own ideas, KAIST will actively ink partnerships with local and overseas corporations that will enable them to found startups and draw investments.

If done well for 10 years, Lee projects KAIST to earn 100 billion won ($89.4 million) per year through patent and intellectual property rights and other business gains. The president also looks to create a collaborative research cluster within Sejong, Daejeon and Osong, North Chungcheong Province.

With such efforts, Lee said it is realistic to hope KAIST will be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with prestigious research institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 20 years. While the dream might look unreal for now, Lee said KAIST has potential to reach that level if given a chance.

The Thursday briefing was the first press event Lee held since he was appointed as the 17th president of the institution upon approval from the Minister of Science and ICT in February. Lee joined KAIST as a faculty member in 1985 after earning his doctorate in computer science at INSA Lyon in France.

He is an advocate of entrepreneurship and startups, and has taught numerous students, some which have ended up becoming big names in the tech industry, like Naver founder Lee Hae-jin and Nexon founder Kim Jung-ju. Lee, who introduced convergence studies at KAIST, earned his master’s degree in industrial engineering at the institution in 1980.

By Ko Jun-tae (