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[Editorial] Freedom & Competition Needed at Think Tanks

Posted October. 18, 2008 09:12,   


The government yesterday announced a plan to streamline state-run research centers. According to the plan, a large-scale research center to be built will play the role of a "control tower" and streamline the government’s 23 centers into 17 under the principle of "one research center per state agency." The main center will help the government set up mid- and long-term national strategies.

In accordance with a law on setting up and managing state-run research centers enacted in 1999, the 23 state-run think tanks including the Korea Development Institute have been supervised and supported by the National Research Council for Economics, Humanities and Social Sciences under the Prime Minister’s Office. The council has played the role of a board of directors, but has also been criticized for failing to promote close cooperation among research centers and prevent them from reckless management due to inefficient control and coordination practices.

State financial support for state-run research institutions gradually increased from 223.8 billion won in 2005 to 245.2 billion won in 2006 and 268.1 billion won last year. But the number of state-run research centers highly rated for their contributions to government policy decreased from seven in 2005 to one in 2006 and last year. Unsurprisingly, many experts say state-run think tanks have not released comprehensive national strategies.

Given the features of economic and social studies, however, the government’s plan to pick 500 out of 2,500 researchers and set up a gigantic research center is questionable. It is more likely that a mammoth research center consisting of 500 researchers will see group thinking instead of fostering creativity and competition. That’s why many experts have warned that the "control tower" could become the administration’s puppets who release studies justifying government policies. If such a gloomy scenario turns into reality, the research center will face a reshuffle whenever a new president takes power.

Researchers can raise meaningful questions only when they are given freedom and leeway to do so. Instead of urging state-run think tanks to conduct politically motivated research, the government should give more leeway to researchers and embrace diverse research results. This is one way to become a successful government.