Public support to the R&D agenda is driven by societal needs, contributing to expansion of knowledge frontiers, improving social welfare, economic growth, and protection of the environment. Economies are also becoming more reliant on research and technology to respond to these needs. In response to the grand societal challenges such as global pandemics, climate change and the green transition, countries have expanded public research expenditures, with the members of the OECD doubling their budgetary allocations for R&D across 15 years from 2005 to 2020, reaching $498 billion.
In times of crisis, policymakers are faced with the challenge of defending and recalibrating the research agenda, in terms of orientation towards present and future needs. In the past, East Asian economies leveraged research for economic catch-up, prioritizing economic growth and promoting applied research through industrial policies. As a result, Korea’s proportion of public R&D budget for basic research remains lower than that of other Western Economies. However, public funding portfolios tilted toward basic research do introduce challenges related to realizing the economic outcomes of research investments, especially if private investments in applied and experimental R&D decrease due to uncertainty or a potential recession.
Considering the shake-up of societal priorities caused by the pandemic and the mounting environmental challenges, how is the research agenda evolving to respond to current and future needs? How are the priorities defined and redefined to go beyond market, economic, and developmental legacies (or could they)? How can the drive towards techno-nationalism/sovereignty reconcile with the principles of open innovation and international research collaboration? What does the recent policy experience from Korea and Argentina tell us? And what are the implications to catching-up economies?