Korea Suffers Brain Drain

  • By Kang Young-soo, Park Soon-chan

    July 30, 2016 08:15

    Academics are turning their back on Korea even as the country requires more highly educated workers in the tech sector to keep abreast of the Chinese.

    According to the Science and Technology Policy Institute, 8,931 science and engineering PhD holders have left Korea, up almost three times compared to a decade ago. And four out of 10 are planning to leave if given the chance. "Talented researchers are leaving, and we can't attract foreign researchers," Hong Sung-min at STEPI said.

    The Chosun Ilbo and the Biological Research Information Center polled 1,005 science and engineering PhD holders and found that 47 percent would prefer to work abroad. Only 31 percent said they would definitely stay in Korea.

    The U.S. National Science Foundation conducted its own study in 2013, which showed around 60 percent of Korean science and engineering PhD holders in the U.S. saying they had no intention of returning to Korea. In yet another study by the Korea Institute of S&T Evaluation and Planning of 97,000 science and engineering PhD holders, 36 percent said they would like to leave.

    Why? Some 59 percent in the Chosun Ilbo poll complained of pressure to achieve short-term results and a lack of independence. And 41 percent complained about a shortage of job opportunities here, and 33 percent cited poor work conditions compared to advanced countries.

    "If I propose a new experiment or note an error, I'm told to just do things the way they've always been done. Young researchers have a tough time adjusting to this culture, which is a bigger consideration for young professional jobseekers than the pay," one researcher at a state-run research institute said.

    One programmer who plans to move to Amazon said, "A lot of my colleagues are drawn by the equality offered by foreign companies regardless of age or rank."

    R&D personnel in private enterprise are also leaving, especially young game developers. One CEO at an SK subsidiary said, "The most-popular company among science and engineering school graduates these days is Google, followed by Naver and big conglomerates."

    Meanwhile, businesses are having a tough time attracting talented workers from abroad. One Samsung staffer said, "It takes two to three years of negotiations. The higher the degree, the more their families prefer to live abroad as they worry about Korean corporate culture and high workloads."

    Samsung instead set up a research center in Silicon Valley in 2014 to attract talented programmers in the U.S. who could not be persuaded to move here.

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