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[Op-Ed] POSTECH’s Dream

Posted February. 02, 2009 09:54,   


Pohang Light Source, which was installed at Pohang University of Science and Technology in 1994, has greatly contributed to the development of basic science in Korea. The third-generation radiation accelerator allows researchers to analyze protein structures in one day instead of several months. Domestic scientists have conducted a host of research using this accelerator and the number of their research results carried by international publications reached 1,373 as of 2007. By investing 150 billion won (109 million U.S. dollars), Korea has become the fifth country to possess the state-of-the-art facility after the United States and three European countries.

With the aim of economic development through exports, the Korean government opened the Gyeongbu Expressway in 1970. With the opening of a road for transportation of goods, outbound shipping went into full swing. The radiation accelerator was also set up with an aim to enhance domestic science and technology by building cutting-edge infrastructure first. The university plans to expand the facility’s capability with a government injection of 100 billion won (72.5 million dollars). Over the past 14 years, the advantage of installing the facility earlier than others was greatly diminished as other countries have built more advanced accelerators. Fourth-generation accelerators will reportedly be set in motion soon in the United States and Japan. At this critical juncture where Korea’s technological prominence will be overtaken by other countries, it is deplorable that many in the political circles oppose state spending for the facility, calling it as a pork-barrel project for the city of Pohang, the constituency of Lee Sang-deuk, the elder brother of President Lee Myung-bak.

Pohang University of Science and Technology along with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon is the country’s flagship school for science and engineering. The Times of London, however, ranked Pohang University of Science and Technology 188th and the institute 95th in its assessment of world universities. Bearing in mind the long path ahead, Baik Sung-gi, president of Pohang University of Science and Technology, has announced a grand plan to break into the world’s top 20 by 2020. In the number of professor dissertations cited by other researchers at home and abroad, the university ranked 17th. But the school’s short history of 23 years led to low grades in world rankings. To make up for this, the university needs to enhance its reputation.

If universities based in the provinces become world-class, this will create many favorable effects. A good university can attract talent, boost vitality in nearby industrial complexes by enhancing university and industry cooperation, and help achieve regional balance, one of the major tasks of the central government. Opportunely, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology will open this year and Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology will start undergraduate programs next year. Hopefully, these two schools can engage in a well-intentioned competition to produce world-class universities.

Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)