By Woo Jae-yeon
SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) -- Talented engineers and the government's strong support are key to advancing tech prowess in chipmaking, a process that is incredibly challenging and complex, a renowned South Korean professor has said.
"Universities should provide more bachelor's degree programs for semiconductors that require expansive and deep understanding of physics, chemistry, material and electronic engineering," Park Jae-gun, an electronics engineering professor at Hanyang University in Seoul, said in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency.
"That would lay the groundwork for a bigger talent pool for doctors and professors to maintain extensive research and development in the coming years and decades."
The former Samsung Electronics semiconductor engineer said grooming smart and skilled engineers in large numbers is the first step toward enhancing the chip industry, vital to South Korea's export-driven economy and national security.
His comments came as the government is making a renewed push to support the semiconductor industry amid intensifying global competition over tech prowess and a supply crunch.
South Korea's new President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, promised to give the government's full backing to the industry, which requires massive infrastructure investments and high levels of technology to spur innovation.
The government is widely expected to unveil its support package on July 14, in time for the groundbreaking ceremony for a new mega cluster of chip companies in Yongin, 40 kilometers south of Seoul.
SK hynix Inc., the world's second-largest memory chip maker, plans to spend 120 trillion won (US$92.4 billion) to build four chip plants there, with a goal to run the facilities in 2027. Dozens of smaller chip material companies, parts manufacturers, and assembly and packaging companies will also move to the cluster.
Industry experts, like Park, have warned for years South Korea needs a significantly greater number of students with chip majors to keep up with the demand from the industry that is expanding at a rapid pace, fueled by "the fourth industrial revolution," referring to technologies like artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things and quantum computing.
Amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, the government also faces an urgent need to build a system for a more stable supply chain of raw materials needed for chipmaking, he said.
"Businesses wouldn't make an investment unless there is a stable supply chain to ensure production," said Park, who also serves as chairman of the Korean Semiconductor & Display Technology Association.
In addition, he hoped the government would remove bureaucratic obstacles to setting up chip-related programs at universities and offering schools generous financial subsidies to buy semiconductor test equipment and build clean rooms, a controlled environment where pollutants are filtered out to manufacture chips.
Park is among a handful of South Korean scholars with a professional background in semiconductors and deep technical expertise in chipmaking.
He worked with Samsung Electronics' semiconductor division from 1985 to 2011, before taking a teaching job at Hanyang University. Park has also served as a science and chip adviser under five South Korean presidents, starting with late President Roh Moo-hyun.
"I don't agree with the view that the government's support for the semiconductor industry only helps big companies like Samsung make more money," he said.
"We should look at the issue in light of the fact that the country heavily depends on the industry for economic growth and job creation."