On November 21, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) declared its plan to reduce the alternative military service system by reducing the number of technical research personnel. Starting from 2025, the quota of technical research personnel with a master’s degree will be reduced from 1,500 to 1,200, a 12 percent drop, and candidates with doctorates, although exempt from reduction of quota, will face a stricter regulation after 2023. The reason given for this decision is that increased conscription numbers are necessary to balance a shorter period of service. The mandatory service period is gradually decreasing from 21 months to, eventually, 18 months in 2020.
Previously, the MND had planned to reduce the technical research personnel quota by more than half, to around 1,200. However, after facing strong opposition from the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT), the MND came to a compromise. On November 21, MSIT announced the “Alternative Service Improvement Plan”, hosted at the Sejong Government Complex.
The doctorate personnel enlisted starting from 2023 would face a number of regulation changes. Firstly, the acquisition of a PhD has become imperative. In addition, the three years spent to acquire the degree will no longer be fully recognized as the service period. After 2023, only two years of the degree program will be recognized as part of the alternative service. The remaining year will be a mandatory period of work in a recognized company or an institute after the PhD is obtained. This policy change has purportedly been designed to increase the level of social contribution from technical research personnel by allocating them to the workplace. Lastly, the management of work hours will become more flexible — the current requirement of eight work hours per day will be changed to a total of 40 hours per week, allowing for more personal freedom in the research environment.
Although subject to reductions, the number of master’s degree holders assigned to small and medium-sized companies in the areas of materials, parts, and equipment that require urgency will be increased from 1,062 to 1,200 by 2020 as they have a separate quota. In addition, technical research personnel serving in small and medium-sized companies will no longer be able to transfer to large corporations after 18 months. The MND hopes to stop the brain drain of manpower and skilled workers in research and design from small and medium-sized corporations.
While the original purpose of the technical research personnel program is to reduce the brain drain in the science field, the MND can no longer escape the criticism related to the recent reduction of service period of general military service. However, since the need for defense is equally important, this issue faces a series of harder decisions.
“The demand for researchers in areas like IT, environment, hydrogen economy is constantly increasing,” said Min-Ku Han of the Korean Academy of Science and Technology. “I hope to see further improvement to continue the young researchers’ careers.”