In the late 1960s, as Korea shifted its focus from light industry to heavy industry, the lack of highly educated scientists and engineers emerged as a serious problem. Korea, then heavily dependent on foreign products and technologies, had difficulty conducting its own research and development (R&D).
The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) was established in 1971 as the nation’s first graduate school specializing in science and engineering education and research. In 1986, KAIST started offering undergraduate degree programs in science and technology. In 1989, the university’s campus moved out of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to Daejeon, about 50 minutes away by high speed train from Seoul. In 2009, KAIST merged with another public university, the Information and Communications University that had been established in 1997 and based in Daejeon as the nation’s only information technology research university.
Unlike other universities subject to the supervision of the Ministry of Education, KAIST, founded under a special law with government funding, is supervised by the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning. This encourages KAIST to cooperate closely with industry and foster a distinctive entrepreneurial culture for R&D.
Initially staffed with a number of Korean engineering and science faculty educated in the United States, over the past 42 years, KAIST has recruited distinguished professors; built state-of-the-art research facilities; and provided excellent education and many benefits to its students, including scholarships, research grants, living allowances, and exemption from military service.
KAIST has set itself a new model for research universities in Korea and has evolved into a global research university. The Times Higher Education (THE) published in June 2013 the list of top 100 universities less than 50 years old, and KAIST ranked third on the list. The university’s strong faculty conducts internationally recognized research in cooperation with academic institutions and companies all over the world.
• Current Status
KAIST has three campuses, one in Seoul, and two in Daejeon. The Seoul campus houses the College of Business. The main as well as the information and communications technology (ICT) campuses are both in Daejeon, in the center of Daedeok Innopolis, the largest scientific and technological R&D cluster in Korea. It comprises more than 1,399 government and private research institutes, startups, and venture companies.
The university has six (6) colleges: Natural Sciences, Life Science & Bioengineering, Engineering, Information Science & Technology, Cultural Science, and Business; two (2) schools for Innovation and Mechanical Engineering & Aerospace System; and eleven (11) graduate schools for Nanoscience & Technology, Medical Science & Engineering, EEWS (energy, environment, water, and sustainability), Green Transportation, Innovation & Technology Management, Science and Technology Policy, Culture Technology, Management, Finance, Information & Media Management, and Information Security.
As of 2013, there are 604 tenure track faculty and 402 staff members. KAIST places great emphasis on recruiting best international and female faculty members possible. In 2012, the numbers of international faculty and female faculty were 45 and 43, respectively. The university continues to strive to increase international and female representation on its faculty.
The total budget for the fiscal year 2013 is USD 765 million; 22.4% of the budget (USD 171 million) is endowed by the Korean government. A large portion of the budget (approximately 60%) is secured through research grants, and the rest comes from various other income sources.
• Education System
KAIST has a student-centered, autonomous academic system. The Open-Major System allows undergraduates to take classes for three terms before choosing a major discipline that best suits their aptitude and interest. Almost all classes are conducted in English.
The Education 3.0 Program has been implemented since 2012 to raise the quality and effectiveness of education by encouraging discussions and active learning with the application of the advanced information technology. Under the program, students are able to study whenever and wherever they choose and can have more personalized learning experiences. For instance, calculus and chemistry courses are offered to freshmen via combination of online course materials and discussion-based classes led by professors.
With its test-free admission system, the first of its kind in Korea, KAIST recruits students on the basis of their overall high-school grades, math and science grades, teacher recommendations, study plan, personal statements, and other data that demonstrate their excellence and potential. KAIST also puts special emphasis on students’ personality, responsibility, and creativity. This multi-pronged admission procedure enables the university to recruit excellent students with well-rounded personality.
KAIST has produced many doctoral graduates in their 20s through the Integrated Master’s and Doctoral Program and the Early Completion System. KAIST requires all doctoral candidates to publish their papers in globally renowned academic journals to ensure high quality of their dissertation.
Currently (in March 2013), 10,249 students are enrolled at KAIST: 4,047 are undergraduates; 2,704 are masters candidates; 1,187 are in programs combining M.S. and Ph.D. degrees; and 2,311 are Ph.D. candidates. Since its inception, KAIST has maintained a larger population of graduate students than undergraduates, positioning itself as a research-oriented university.
About 60% of admitted undergraduate students are graduates of science magnet high schools in Korea, while the rest comes from Korean general high schools or from abroad. Generous scholarships are given to all undergraduate and graduate students. On-campus dormitories are provided for all students who wish to reside in them.
• Research Institutes
From the outset, KAIST has emphasized on conducting research projects in both theoretical and applied sciences. KAIST continues to be Korea’s foremost institution for mid- to long-term strategic R&D projects of national and international significance. Research at KAIST focuses on projects of basic science and technological innovation that will have the greatest impact on humanity and industrial society.
Major research programs include HRHR (high risk high return) Program, Undergraduate Research Program (URP), EEWS (energy, environment, water, and sustainability), and convergence research. The HRHR Program is implemented to conduct basic research and technology innovation. The URP provides undergraduate students with ample opportunities to obtain research skills and in-depth knowledge in science and engineering by participating in over 120 research projects.
The EEWS Graduate School, established in 2009, addresses critical issues relating to sustainable development and the future of humanity, namely energy, environment, water, and sustainability. The graduate school adopts multi-disciplinary research programs to explore new research areas and develop disruptive technologies in collaboration with leading research institutions and industrial corporations worldwide. In 2013, KAIST and Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, joined forces to establish the CO2 Management Research Center.
The KAIST Institute (KI), which consists of five research centers, has been set up to concentrate the university’s convergence research capabilities in advanced fields: BioCentury, IT Convergence, Design of Complex Systems, NanoCentury, and Optical Science and Technology. Each center operates as an independent research unit at the level of a college and receives financial and facility supports from the Korean government and industry.
A total of 109 research facilities including NanoFab Center, the Satellite Technology Research Center, the Humanoid Robot Research Center, and the Metabolic & Biomolecular Engineering National Research Laboratory are situated on the KAIST campus.
Total research grants of the projects commissioned by the Korean government and private businesses were 300 billion Korean won (US$268 million) in 2012. In terms of ownership of intellectual property rights, from 2006 to 2012, KAIST has held 6,149 domestic and 1,377 international patents.
• International Exchanges
KAIST has a wide range of international exchange and cooperation programs; hosts international academic conferences, workshops, and symposia; holds academic exchanges of professors; supports exchanges of research personnel and students with overseas universities; and conducts international joint research projects.
KAIST has hosted annually the International Presidential Forum on Global Research Universities (IPFGRU) since 2008. The global forum attracts a significant number of leaders from research universities around the world to discuss issues related to higher education and explore solutions and development strategies that benefit the world’s university community in general. In 2012, 83 presidents and vice presidents of 60 research universities from 27 nations attended IPFGRU for presentations and panel discussions on the topic of “Effective Education and Innovative Learning.”
KAIST is gaining prominence in the world’s academic societies with notable research accomplishments produced by highly qualified faculty and researchers. KAIST is recognized as a global research university, appearing consistently since 2008 in the top 100 world universities as ranked by the Times Higher Education (68th in 2012) and Quacquarelli Symonds (63rd in 2012). In domestic rankings compiled by JoongAng Ilbo, a leading daily newspaper in Korea, KAIST topped the list of the 10 best universities in the nation for four consecutive years from 2009 to 2012.
KAIST offers a variety of scholarships, grants, and fellowships to international students, creating an environment that promotes a commitment to diversity and global citizenship. As of 2013 spring semester, 672 international students from 75 different countries are studying at KAIST. The university operates exchange and cooperation programs with 419 partner universities around the world such as the University of Oxford, the University of California, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the Technical University of Denmark, the University of Melbourne (Australia), and INSA de Lyon (France).
The total number of graduates as of March 2013 is 46,117 (B.S., 12,793; M.S., 23,941; and Ph.D., 9,383). KAIST graduates have demonstrated extraordinary leadership in research, academia, business, and public service.
KAIST graduates teach and conduct research at MIT, UCLA, Harvard, Caltech, Technische Universitat Graz, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and other universities. Major business establishments, including Samsung, SK Telecom, LG, Hyundai, and NHN, employ large numbers of KAIST graduates. The majority of government-run research organizations in Korea such as the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI), the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), and the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KRICT) are also staffed by many KAIST graduates.
KAIST has a job placement rate of nearly 100 percent. KAIST graduates account for 20 percent of all engineering doctorates in Korea and 10 percent of all engineering professorships in Korea. Nearly 25 percent of the R&D personnel at Samsung Electronics are KAIST graduates. Graduates have set up about 360 venture companies that deal with modern technologies.