KAIST History

Historical information about the establishment of KAIST.


Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology was established on February 16, 1971 with the aim of producing advanced scientists and engineers needed for Korean industries. (The institution was originally named "Korea Advanced Institute of Science" at the time of establishment, and the term "Technology" was added in 1981.) The foundation of KAIST was largely backed up by the financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the strong commitment of then-Korean President Park Chung-Hee. USAID actively supported the Korean government's initiative of founding a graduate school for nurturing science and engineering talents by offering a huge loan of six million dollars as well as human resources. In order to promote further economic development and a successful transition from light industries to heavy and chemical industries, the Korean government needed an independent program for producing excellent scientists and engineers. With the president's strong commitment and leadership, KAIST was found as a new form of science- and engineering-oriented undergraduate/graduate program despite vocal opposition from other universities in Korea.

The blueprint for KAIST's establishment was provided by Frederick E. Terman, who served as vice president of Stanford University. Often dubbed the "father of the Silicon Valley," he created an industrial-academic convergence complex at Stanford University to highlight the importance of collaborative research between industries and universities. His students include William Hewlett and David Packard, the co-founders of global computer/information giant HP. At the response to USAID, Terman formed an investigation team and visited Korea to make basic surveys needed for the foundation of KAIST.The result produced in December 1970 was the "Terman Report," which became the blueprint for the establishment of KAIST. A Korean physicist who was then serving as professor at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in New York, U.S., Chung Geun-mo played a leading role in preparing the Terman Report as a member of the investigation team. With Korean physicist Lee Sang-soo appointed as its first president in February 1971, KAIST embarked on full-fledged preparations for its establishment. Many outstanding Korean scientists and engineers working in U.S. universities and enterprises were invited as professors; accepting the first students in January 1973, the institution began education and research activities in earnest.

Launched in 1973, KAIST's education and research program gave a refreshing jolt to the fields of science/technology and education in Korea. Befitting its philosophy of establishment, the institution focused on education and research that can be actually applied to Korean industries rather than on strictly theoretical ones. Professors worked on extremely practical research projects, such as development of automobile engine parts, design/manufacturing of semiconductors and fermentation of beer. Under their guidance, students also spent more time at the laboratory, covered with sweat and grease, building and operating machines' instead of keeping their noses buried in books at the library. While undergraduate and graduate programs offered back then by Korean universities overall, including Seoul National University, were poorly designed and implemented, KAIST's education program was rich and dense and was highly intensive. At the Department of Electrical Engineering, for instance, freshmen were brought into the seminar room right after their matriculation ceremony and could not go back to their dormitory until after 2 a.m. Students would have nosebleeds every morning while washing their faces; some of them would even say, "Wouldn't life be much easier if we had gone into the military?" Thanks to the concerted efforts of young and enthusiastic faculty members and graduate students willing to achieve success for their motherland, however, KAIST was able to fully establish itself as an integral part of the Korean education/research system in less than 10 years following its establishment.