South Korean Government Looking into Providing Better Treatment for University Researchers

May 22, 2019

South Korean Government is preparing to provide better treatment for university researchers by increasing amount of personnel expenses and improving how they are paid. It is going to set up a stable personnel expense by combining various finances and have universities be the ones that manage personnel expenses rather than professors.
There are also several issues. One, there is difference in opinions regarding. Second, there are pros and cons on whether it is effective to utilize budgets with different purposes as general scholarships.
◊South Korean Government to change how personnel expenses within universities are handled
Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) is planning to strengthen rights and interests of research personnel within universities and improve conditions for research settings.
As part of its plan, it is going to introduce ‘scholarship portfolio (stipend) personalized for students’ mainly for universities that have personnel expense pooling system and ‘BK Plus (support project by Ministry of Education)’. Universities will design how systems are operated while departments will design and operate finances. It is going to have stipend support available on admission letters so that universities can continue to operate this system.
MSIT is looking into providing financial support every month. 50 to 60% of finances will be equally distributed to students while rest of finances will be distributed depending on other factors such as amount of participation in research. Although it is necessary to introduce this system as soon as possible considering characteristics of research done by scientific fields, MSIT is going to adjust how it is going to be introduced. It is going to first introduce the system to four institutes of science and technology such as KAIST and look for areas that need to be improved. Afterwards, it is going to expand the system to major universities that carry out large-scale R&D after gathering opinions from Ministry of Education, universities, and students.
MSIT is expecting that its system will solve significant part of structural problems that occur from a process of paying personnel expenses. Personnel expenses for university researchers come from national R&D department. Professors from many universities obtain R&D projects, add up personnel expenses, and manage expenses after putting them in ‘pooling’ account.
Personnel expense pooling system manages personnel expenses from various projects from single account. Current system can cause serious changes in personnel expense depending on number and size of projects and administrative burden for adding up personnel expenses. Even though there is a guideline that states that remaining personnel expense can be used even after a project is finished, this guideline is not followed properly. It is also a cause that builds subordinate relationship between professors and students.

South Korean Government Looking into Providing Better Treatment for University Researchers

◊South Korean Government focused on preparing financial resources
Major task for improving personnel expense within universities involves expansion of finances for managing stipend. In 2017, amount of personnel expense for university researchers out of entire government budget for R&D was $358 million (427.5 billion KRW). Amount of personnel expense for normal university researchers excluding government-funded research institutes and four institutes of science and technology was $238 million (283.8 billion KRW). Monthly average personnel expenses for researchers with doctor’s degree, master’s degree, and bachelor’s degree were $1,006 (1.2 million KRW), $840 (1 million KRW), and $250 (300,000 KRW) respectively. However, even these amounts were not consistent since they are based on level of participation by researchers. Monthly average personnel expenses when level of participation is 100% are $2,100 (2.5 million KRW), $1,500 (1.8 million KRW), and $840 (1 million KRW) respectively.
MSIT predicts that it will be somewhat easier to prepare finances due to increase in national budget for R&D. Amount of budget for basic research is continuing to go up according to South Korean Government’s plan. Amount of budget for basic research for this year will be $1.43 billion (1.71 trillion KRW), which is $377 million (450 billion KRW) more than that of last year, and Amount of budget for basic research will increase to $2.1 billion (2.5 trillion KRW) in 2022.
MSIT recently started discussing with Ministry of Education to satisfy rest of finances through financial support means such as BK Plus.
However, there is difference in opinions between two departments and universities. Although they agree on providing better treatment for students in scientific fields, they disagree on how to manage finances.
MSIT’s plan is to co-manage every personnel expense by seeing it as part of personnel expense pooling system. Ministry of Education manages BK Plus project as a special project. Scholarships are also distributed depending on performance of students.
Persuading universities will be a difficult task as well. According to current MSIT’s plan, personnel expenses of professors with many projects can become personnel expenses of students in departments with lesser projects. Giving motivations for researchers with not many projects and causing competitions can also act as a burden for professors.
“Although introducing stipend may be easy for an university such as KAIST where there is no tuition, it is not the case for regular universities.” said a professor from an university. “It will be interesting to see whether South Korean Government can fill lack of financial resources with its finances and prepare solutions that can suppress opposition from universities.”
“This issue requires many discussions between Ministry of Education and universities.” said a representative for MSIT. “We are planning to have discussions in the future by continuing to present solutions for our system.”
Staff Reporter Choi, Ho | snoop@etnews.com

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