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Stop the Brain Drain

Posted August. 01, 2010 08:38,   


Software departments at Korean universities were once as popular as medical school. They now have difficulty recruiting students, however, bringing shame to the nation’s reputation as an IT powerhouse. The computer engineering department at Seoul National University has failed to fill its regular student quota since 2005, excluding last year. Due to insufficient investment in nurturing human resources specializing in software, Korea was rated by the OECD as a beginner, the lowest among three categories, along with Mexico and Portugal, in a survey on software development capability in 2006-2007. In an environment where software development is considered a "3-D" job, or dirty, dangerous and difficult, Korea cannot develop products such as the iPhone and Google’s Android.

The focus of the world IT market has shifted from hardware to software. Apple comes up with designs and has its products made in China and Taiwan. Mark Zuckerberg, who became a billionaire in his 20s by co-founding the popular U.S. social networking site Facebook, was so talented a programmer that Microsoft offered him a job in high school. On the secret of his success, he said he developed programs in front of computers for six years.

Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul will open a software department to attract the best talent and those with ability in software development. The school will offer full four-year scholarships as well as living expenses and dormitory housing. Such unprecedented incentives are necessary for Korea to catch up in software design despite its world-class technology in manufacturing hardware including handsets.

The lack of talent in software is not the only problem for Korea. The brain drain of scientists and engineers is worsening, casting a dark cloud over the future of Korea’s industrial technology. The Korea Institute of Science and Technology Evaluation and Planning said that of 970,000 Koreans with doctorates in science and engineering, 8.4 percent or 8,100 are likely to go abroad to countries such as the U.S. A sense of deprivation compared to other professional jobs, such as medicine, lack of research autonomy, and insufficient rewards, are among the reasons for scientists and engineers to leave Korea.

China invited Wednesday 70 ethnic Chinese scientists and engineers living abroad and their families to the luxury resort town of Beidaihe. Among them, 43 hold foreign citizenship. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and other high-ranking officials welcomed them in person. Moved by Beijing`s efforts, 100,000 ethnic Chinese scientists who were living abroad returned home last year. Like China, Korea needs drastic action to nurture and retain creative minds in science and engineering.