The Institute for Basic Science — South Korea’s flagship basic research organization — is being restructured, following a year of scandals and criticism, including allegations of misappropriating funds and nepotism.
The nation’s science ministry announced on 10 September that the reform measures will include changes to the Institute for Basic Science (IBS)’s administrative structure, its purchasing system, and its pay grades.
The institute was founded in 2011, and is modelled on the Max Planck Society in Germany and RIKEN in Japan. IBS is often referred to as South Korea’s ‘Nobel prize project’ — an attempt to win its first scientific Nobel.
But in the past year, the organization has been rocked by a series of financial mismanagement allegations that have been raised in the media and parliamentary hearings against several IBS centres. As a result, 28 of the institute’s 30 centres have been audited in several government investigations, the most recent of which ran through August. The science ministry said the results of the audits informed the reorganization.
As part of the reforms, 97 administrative staff from 19 centres will be consolidated into five administration centres. These include centres at IBS headquarters in Daejeon, as well as on university campuses at KAIST in Daejeon, the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, and POSTECH in Busan. This is intended to improve administrative efficiency as well as allow centre directors to focus on research.
Minimum salaries for researchers will also be raised over time. And a central purchasing system will also be introduced across research centres, which will handle frequently-bought supplies such as materials, reagents, and office supplies. This is also intended to reduce the administrative burden on centre directors.
The nation’s new science minister, Choi Ki-young, was also inaugurated on 10 September. Choi was appointed by South Korean president Moon Jae-in. In remarks after his inauguration, Choi vowed to “spare no investment in basic science”, saying it would protect against an uncertain future.
Calls for further investment in basic science in South Korea have grown amid a widening trade dispute with Japan that threatened to disrupt supplies of key semiconductor components. Basic science, many say, can help ensure South Korea has its own supply-chain and technological independence.