Friday May 24, 2024

Lessons from Korea

By Atta-ur-Rahman
April 12, 2023

Pakistan faces serious existential challenges after decades of misdirected governance. The only way to survive in this highly competitive world – where knowledge rather than natural resources have become key drivers of socio-economic development – is by investing in high-quality education, science, technology and innovation.

This should be done in a highly focused manner so that Pakistan is able to manufacture and export high-tech (high value-added) goods. This vision and mission have been mostly missing in our past leadership with the result that Pakistan’s exports stagnate at around $32 billion while those of Singapore, which has almost no natural resources and has a population about a quarter of that of Karachi, stand at over $400 billion.

In previous articles I have described the paths taken by countries such as China and Singapore that led them to shed poverty and emerge as powerful nations. This article will talk about Korea and describe how this nation was transformed in the last several decades.

The foundations of Korea’s transformation were laid by General Park Chung-hee who served as South Korea’s president from 1961 until his assassination in 1979. As a result of a multitude of visionary programmes launched by him, Korea emerged as a global economic powerhouse, with a highly educated and skilled workforce, a vibrant entrepreneurial culture, and a focus on employing innovation and technology for rapid and sustained socio-economic development.

The Park government recognized that investing in science and technology was essential for the country’s long-term economic success. So it created several institutions to promote research and development, such as the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI).

An important factor that contributed to the success of South Korea’s science and technology sector was the government’s emphasis on applied research, focused on development of new technologies and high value-added commercial products, as opposed to basic research. The sectors of particular focus were electronics, ship-building, automobile manufacture and telecommunications, to name a few.

Another key factor that led to rapid economic growth was the government’s willingness to partner with the private sector. The government recognized that the private industry had the resources and expertise necessary to convert research into commercially viable products, and it worked closely with industry to ensure that research was aligned with industry needs.

The government provided funding for research and development, and the private sector provided the expertise and resources necessary to commercialize new technologies. This aspect has been almost completely missing in the science and technology initiatives taken in Pakistan.

South Korea’s success in the technology sector is perhaps best illustrated by the rise of Samsung, which started as a small electronics company in the 1960s, and has since become one of the largest and most successful technology companies in the world. The company’s success was built on a foundation of cutting-edge research and development, with a focus on developing new technologies and applications that could be commercialized quickly. Samsung’s success has had a ripple effect throughout the South Korean economy.

One of the important ways in which the government promoted links between research and industrial development was through the creation of science parks – areas where universities, research institutions, and private industry come together to promote research and development with the objective of commercializing new technologies.

The government provided funding for science parks and created incentives to attract the private sector to establish their R&D centers within them such as tax breaks and other financial incentives. The Daedeok Science Town located in Daejeon was created in the 1970s, with the goal of promoting research and development in the fields of science and technology. It is one of South Korea’s most successful science parks, and it houses more than 250 research institutions and companies, including Samsung, LG, and Hyundai.

In addition to science parks, the government also established many other programmes and initiatives to promote linkages between research and industrial development. One such initiative was the Technology Development Program (TDP), which was launched in the early 1980s. The TDP provided funding for research and development projects that had commercial potential and required companies to provide matching funds. The TDP was highly successful and helped promote the development of new technologies.

A similar initiative was started by me in Pakistan in 2001 when I was the federal minister of science and technology. The Science and Technology for Economic Development (STED) established linkages between many research organizations and industries in focused fields of industrial development. Unfortunately, it was not sustained after I left the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Another key Korean initiative was the Industrial Technology Innovation Program (ITIP), which was launched in the late 1990s. The ITIP was designed to promote innovation in the manufacturing sector, and provided funding for research and development projects that focused on improving manufacturing processes and developing new manufacturing technologies.

The ITIP helped improve the competitiveness of South Korea’s manufacturing sector and contributed significantly to economic growth. Another important institution established was the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology (KITECH), which was established in the early 1980s. KITECH focused on developing new technologies and manufacturing processes that could be used by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which were seen as the backbone of South Korea’s economy. KITECH’s work helped improve the competitiveness of SMEs and drive economic growth.

Higher education has been a crucial factor in Korea’s economic development. The government has invested heavily in higher education, with the aim of creating a workforce that is competitive in the global economy. In the 1990s, the government launched a programme to increase the number of Korean students studying abroad. This was aimed at developing a pool of talent with international experience and a global outlook, which could contribute to Korea’s development.

This has helped Korea provide a large number of highly qualified labour to industry and academia. Korea, like China, also took a number of steps to root out corruption from the government so that public funds are not subject to massive loot and plunder.

Pakistan must quickly embark on launching similar programmes with a focus on the manufacture and export of high technology goods if it is to emerge from the deep economic mess that it has created itself through myopic planning by past leaders. Like many other countries in Asia, a powerful, efficient and fair judicial system is a perquisite for socio-economic development.

The writer is the former federal minister for science and technology and former founding chairman of the HEC. He can be reached at: