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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Funding opportunities

Mobility measures

The International Bureau carries out bilateral mobility programmes with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) for the BMBF. Especially applications, which involve research institutions as well as commercial partners and which are aimed at subsequent funding in a specialised BMBF programme or as part of a European programme, are likely to receive funding.

Structural university partnerships

Since 2009, the BMBF has funded the structural partnerships of German universities to establish joint research structures in Asia as part of four announcements so far (APRA announcement: Asian-Pacific Research Area) at around EUR 2 million a year. This programme has since enabled the set-up of more than 20 joint research platforms with top-class institutes across Asia. 3 bilateral projects have been funded bilaterally with the Republic of Korea since the beginning of 2013. The first bilateral announcement to support German universities in establishing structural cooperation with universities in Korea was published in January 2012. This bilateral funding measures is based on the existing unilateral APRA announcement.

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, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE). By now, we can look back on four successful bilateral KGCCSIT meetings.

The next meeting is scheduled to take place in Germany in November 2015.

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 (currently approx. 30 cooperations each of Fraunhofer and Max-Planck Institutes) and individual universities, there are also cooperation projects which are supports by the mobility and project funding available in the context of the regular BMBF funding announcements.

Mobility programme

The BMBF funds mobility measures via the DLR Project Management Agency in order to intensify the research and technology cooperation with South Korea. The bilateral mobility programme with Korea (German-Korean Mobility Support Program) has been running since 2007. On the Korean side, the programme is managed by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF), which in turn is run by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP). The announcements are based on the strategic priorities of the relevant national funding programmes and on potential synergies between these priorities. The last bilateral funding announcement was published on 15 December 2014 and ran until 16 February 2015. The project participants were able to apply for up to EUR 20,000 over 2 years.

The priorities of the announcement were

  • health research including medical technology
  • environmental technology, particularly research regarding the provision of raw materials of strategic importance to the economy: increase in efficiency, recycling, substitution of scarce metals and minerals
  • information and communication technologies

Other areas can also receive funding if a specific interest of the partner countries or Germany could be demonstrated.

Structural university partnerships

The funding measure “Projects of the BMBF funding programmes to establish joint research structures of German universities with partners in APRA“ is aimed at strengthening cooperations through mobility measures. This goes back to a cross-regional, German announcement for the Asia-Pacific research area. It was possible to continue this as a first bilaterally funded announcement of this kind thanks to the high resonance in South Korea. Its objective is to establish long-term, sustainable research structures such as by setting up a joint laboratory, a joint research group, research stations, trial facilities etc., and it constitutes a further development of mobility funding. Since January 2013, three German-Korean university cooperations have been funded by Germany at up to EUR 100,000 per project and year each.

The branch campus of Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg in Busan

Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg has run a university education branch in Busan, South Korea, since 2010, which offers a Master of Science in Chemical and Bioengineering Sciences according to the German university law. Excellent Korean Bachelor graduates can study engineering at the campus in Busan and enter the international labour market with their degree from FAU.

The Busan location also acts as a research centre researching chemical reaction technology, bio-process technology focused on marine biotechnology and fluid mechanics. The laboratory facilities were set up based on the German model between 2009 and 2011, and in Korea are viewed as a reference model for laboratory safety.

Efforts are currently being made in Korea to adapt engineering education more strongly to the requirements of industry and research. In this context, the interdisciplinary research-based teaching approach of the FAU and its curriculum are viewed as a model for reforming Korean engineering training.

The FAU Campus Busan was the first - and until today is the only - independent branch campus of a German university in Korea. The campus gives the FAU a toehold in Asia and creates a presence, which is of particular interest to Asian and international companies. For instance, the FAU most recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Siemens Korea; the first FAU student from Busan has now started his placement there.

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.

Involvement in EU education and research programmes (with German partners)

In addition to the bilateral cooperation, R&D collaboration also takes place as part of European cooperation projects. The European-Korean project KONNECT, whose aim as a research-political coordination project is to strengthen the collaboration in science, technology and innovation, has been running since October 2013. Different work packages have been defined in this context, including analyses and studies, information events, support of the bilateral Korean-European political dialogue and publication of joint funding announcements. As part of KONNECT, the International Bureau is preparing a joint funding announcement on “Resources and Sustainability”, which is scheduled to launch in September 2015.

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 on 25 March 2015. The next meeting is scheduled to take place in 2016 and will be organised by the International Bureau. A separate website for the EIGs with Korea and Japan will be ready in the near future.

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.