Republic of Korea (South Korea)

In the last 60 years, South Korea has undergone a rapid development from an agricultural to an industrialised country and its investments in research and development by now put it among the leading nations of the OECD. This progress results in an ever more varied cooperation landscape between German and Korean research institutions.

Korean Researcher

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General development

The economic ascent of South Korea in recent decades went hand in hand with a rapid development of the Korean R&D landscape. Perpetually increasing investments (proportion of gross domestic expenditure for research and development of more than 4%) have turned South Korea into one of the strongest OECD countries in terms of research and ensure that its R&D landscape continues to grow. The attractiveness of Korean research institutions as cooperation partners for German researchers has risen significantly due to their steady further development.

In the past, research and development (R&D) in South Korea was primarily application-oriented and achieved high-level performance in e.g. information and communication technologies. The internationalisation of the Korean R&D landscape plays an important role in Korean innovation policy because this is seen as a necessary condition for inclusion in international top-level research. In addition to expanding existing bilateral cooperation with important strategic partners, this also includes greater involvement in multilateral institutions and research projects.

Basic research is a comparatively new priority. The research centres of the “Institute of Basic Science” founded in 2012 have the objective of becoming a working location for leading researchers from all over the world along the lines of the Max-Planck Society and the Japanese research institute RIKEN. As such, they want to make a contribution to the development of South Korea from a “fast follower” to a “first mover”.

Industrial research and development in South Korea continues to be influenced primarily by the “Chaebol”, large industrial conglomerates like Samsung and LG. South Korea has viewed the comparatively low number of innovative small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are important for economic development, as a weakness for several years now, and much action is taken to counteract this. The German innovation system is often mentioned as a paradigm in this respect.

German companies can enjoy opportunities primarily in high-tech sectors such as electronics, automotive construction and shipbuilding, medical technology, biotechnology and environmental technology, machine construction and the chemical industry. A research cooperation can facilitate market entry for German providers in this area. South Korea has also gained in attractiveness as a location for research centres.

The special role of Germany for the collaboration with European partners is apparent e.g. in the fact that the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has been running its own research institution in Germany based on German law with its KIST-Europe branch established in 1996. In addition, South Korean students make up the largest group of Asian students in Germany relative to the country’s population. Last year alone, significantly more than 5,000 new students and young postgraduate scientists from Korea were studying and researching at German universities.

Political framework

The bilateral cooperation is based on an inter-governmental agreement between the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Government of the Republic of Korea on scientific and technological cooperation dated 11 April 1986 (BGBI 1986 II 928). Subsequently, several individual agreements were concluded between universities and research and research funding institutions in the two countries.

Since December 2007, the bilateral education and research cooperation has been coordinated at government level by the “Korean-German Cooperation Committee on Science & Industrial Technology” (KGCCSIT). This committee was formed based on the successful activities of two committees managed by research organisations and its objective is to expand the collaboration further. On the German side, it is managed by the BMBF with the involvement of several research organisations and agencies. On the Korean side, responsibility for management alternates between the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE). By now, we can look back on four successful bilateral KGCCSIT meetings.

Funding the cooperation with the partner country

The bilateral R&D cooperation between Germany and South Korea rests on many different shoulders. In addition to the cooperations of German research organisations and individual universities, there are also cooperation projects which are supports by the project funding available in the context of BMBF funding announcements.

2+2 funding announcement

Following up on the results of the 2015 meeting on science ant technology cooperation (STC), a funding announcement for 2 + 2 projects in the fields of health research, environmental technology, information and communication technologies and nano-risk research was made in 2016, together with the Korean MSIT. Three projects, each with a funding volume of EUR 120,000 per year, will be carried out from 2017 to 2020.

Another 2 + 2 funding measure was implemented in January 2018 with the Ministry of Economy MOTIE in the 'service robotics' field. Three projects, each with a funding volume of EUR 200,000 a year, will be carried out from March 2019 to 2022.

Priority topics of the cooperation

The bilateral R&D cooperation covers a very broad range of topics: in recent years, the priorities have been on the life sciences, information and communication technology, nanotechnology, materials research, environmental research, physical and chemical technology and marine and polar research.

European Interest Group (EIG) for Korea

The European Interest Group (EIG) for Korea is a forum, whose objective is to ensure the collaboration of EU countries with Korea even after the current EU project KONNECT and previously KORANET come to an end. This is based on the contacts and experiences of the finished EU projects.

The EIG is an open forum, which other EU countries and other research institutions in EU and Korea can join. The main objectives of the EIG are:

  • Exchange relating to current cooperations: information, coordinating, networking
  • development of new funding tools
  • joint announcements
  • opening up opportunities for participation and contacts with Korea for smaller EU countries without requiring a separate bilateral inter-governmental agreement
  • giving Korea access to smaller EU countries
  • industry involvement

Many different joint activities are possible:

  • joint funding announcements
  • matchmaking events
  • workshops
  • information days, e.g. relating to funding opportunities or to the European research framework programme Horizon2020.

In contrast to the EU projects KORANTE and KONNECT, the EIG does not receive EU funding. It is also not bound by the requirements of the Commission.

The last EIG meeting took place in Brussels in October 2019. The next meeting is scheduled to take place in 2020.

ADeKo - The German-Korean Alumni Network

ADeKo e. V., e. V., the association of Korean Germany alumni was founded in May 2008 and is one of the larger Germany alumni networks. Its launch was financed by the BMBF. ADeKo bundles approx. 50 Korean Germany alumni associations and numerous individual members under one name and is a registered association in South Korea. By now, the ADeKo umbrella combines around 7,000 members, including many high-ranking representatives of politics and science in South Korea. The members of ADeKo are greatly committed to strengthening German-Korean relations at a scientific, economic and political level and also maintain cultural exchange.

The association is managed by a senior and a junior management board together with the ADeKo office at the DAAD information centre in Seoul. The board members of ADeKo include representatives of the Korean scientific landscape, the president of DAAD and ex officio the German Ambassador to South Korea and the Korean Ambassador to Germany. Specialised and subject-specific committees support the work of the board.

ADeKo organises regular events by and for alumni in different formats. The most important activities of ADeKo include organising annual specialised conferences, which have taken place with varying priorities since 2009, and whose purpose is to create a forum for exchange between German and Korean representatives from industry, science and politics. In October 2014, this conference was held as a “Joint Korean-German Conference on Future and Technology” managed by several Korean and German partners. The around 600 participants were given the opportunity to discuss in different sessions e.g. current research priorities in South Korea and the developments and future prospects of the German-Korean cooperation. This annual event not only brings together important actors in the German-Korean cooperation but also contributes to presenting Germany as an attractive location for research and a research partner in South Korea.