Edition 213 - January 2019

South Korea: professors worried about academic freedom

Professors in South Korea recently showed their apprehension about safeguarding academic freedom, following the Ministry of Science and ICT’s decision to suspend the president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Shin Sung-Chul, on the grounds that he was involved in fraudulent activities in his previous post.

Shin Sung-Chul would have allegedly embezzled public research funds while he was president of Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST), from 2011 to 2017, and, in particular, he is accused of unlawful payments – of up to EUR 1.7 million – to the US-based Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to facilitate DGIST researchers to use the Berkeley Lab. Shin refuted all allegations and various members of the academic community showed him their support, including the Berkley Laboratory, which stated that the agreement was lawful. Other institutions, such as the KAIST faculty council and KAIST alumni in the Silicon Valley, signed a petition, while the South Korean organisation Citizens’ Coalition for a Scientific Society issued a statement, both criticising the government’s handling of the affair. What professors primarily argue is that Shin was suspended before the prosecutor completed the investigation into the allegations.

This episode follows a series of earlier resignations from professors and heads of departments of several national universities who were appointed under the previous government. According to local media, many of those who resigned came under strong pressures from the current government. Academics, scientists and faculty members in the country are increasingly worried about the actual political and governmental interference in the academic, scientific and research world and launch a call for academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

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