As many countries increase their participation in Science and Technology, Japan has noticed a decrease in their own. Here, we chart the priorities for the country to remain a world leader in science and technology policy
For a resource-limited Japan (with a decreasing population) to maintain its international competitiveness and realise an innovative society and economy, it is vital that it leads the world in science and technology (S&T) capabilities. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) is responsible for the science and technology policy in Japan. Lead by Minister Kōichi Hagiuda, MEXT plans and formulates basic policies concerning S&T policy, produces concrete plans concerning promotion and research and development (R&D), and coordinates with government agencies in relation to promotion and S&T.
Policy and innovation surrounding S&T is administered in a planned manner following the Science and Technology Basic Plan, which is determined every five years. Originally established 20 years ago the current basic plan is Japan’s fifth, (2016-2021) and consists of four major objectives, each with its own targets:
Enabling technologies – big data, artificial intelligence, bio- and nanotechnology Japan places the utmost importance on realising a “super smart society”. This consists of prioritising the development of cutting-edge IT and technology for IoT (Internet of Things), while also paying particular attention to other countries’ IoT-related technology promotion policies – Germany’s “Industry 4.0”, the United States’ “Advanced Manufacturing Partnership”, and China’s “Made in China 2025. Big data analytics, AI (Artificial Intelligence), cyber security and networking will also be promoted as the “fundamental technologies necessary to build the super smart society service platform.”
A number of numerical goals have been set by the Japanese Government, such as:
• The number of researchers moving among universities, research institutes and commercial companies will increase from 10,000 in 2013 to 12,000 by 2020.
• Increasing the proportion of full-time university faculty less than 40 years old to 30% or more by 2020 on a nationwide level.
• The proportion of female researchers among new hires mentioned in the 4th Basic Plan (30% of the total in natural sciences overall, 20% in physical sciences, 15% in engineering, 30% in agriculture sciences, and 30% in medicine, dentistry and pharmacology combined), has not yet been achieved, and is now being pushed further.
• Increasing the investment from commercial companies into university-oriented research projects from JPY 39 billion in 2013 to about JPY 80 billion by 2020.
• Making the total public and private-sector R&D investment reach at least 4% of GDP (about JPY 26 trillion) by 2020 (this is a high-level goal.)
Addressing problems by stronger fundamentals and inclusive science
Concepts such as open science, networked science, and citizen science indicate a more inclusive approach to managing the country’s research and development. Increased participation between ministries, within ministries, and among funding agencies is also being prioritised. Small and medium-sized businesses will receive additional support regarding standardisation.
Sense of urgency not to fall behind in R&D
It is valuable to note that Japan currently has the world’s second-highest number of Nobel Prize laureates in the 21st century for natural sciences, which reinforces the country’s presence in science and technology around the world. This 5th Plan, however, stresses that this world standing in S&T is in decline and dropping in competitiveness, in comparison to other countries which are further strengthening their science and technology policies year after year. To combat this and remain a serious competitor in world Science and Technology, it is extremely important for Japan to foster and secure human resources in science and technology and promote its activities. MEXT is therefore currently working on comprehensive human resources development measures spanning everyone from children to leading researchers and engineers. MEXT is doing this by developing the talents and broadening the horizons of children who like science, fostering environments where diverse people including young, female, and international researchers can exercise their abilities, and promoting a professional engineer system.
MEXT has recently published a brochure providing an overview of their initiatives against the COVID-19 pandemic in the field of education. First and foremost, MEXT promises to take whatever measures necessary to ensure children’s learning as much as possible, without anyone being left behind. To provide schools across the country with the necessary human and material resources for ensuring effective learning, MEXT has assigned large numbers of additional teachers, school support staff, funding, and more. The ministry is also providing all elementary, junior high, and high schools nationwide with funding to support school reopening’s in the hope of taking quick, flexible countermeasures against COVID-19 and ensuring quality learning. Starting the GIGA (Global and Innovative Gateway for All) School Program will optimise learning by providing one computer per student and high-speed Internet for schools.
Alongside these measures, Japan is also preparing environments for home study using ICT. In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, integrated preparation of hardware, software, and personnel under the GIGA School Program will be accelerated and strengthened. The overriding aim is the early installation of these measures to maximise potential. Through these initiatives, it is ensured that all children can learn by using ICT even in emergency situations, such as temporary school closures due to natural disasters or infectious diseases in the future.
In terms of higher education, MEXT has allocated $95 million in the government’s supplementary budget for support in preparing an IT environment that will enable universities to set up a system and equipment for conducting distance learning classes and to provide advanced education using digital technology. The ministry is also providing financial support to those most adversely affected.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, education was already driving forward science and technology in Japan. MEXT has been promoting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), a global, UNESCO-led initiative. For a more sustainable society, ESD aims to develop students’ values and behaviour, helping them to solve various issues. Commenting on this initiative, MEXT stated; “in a world that will need to keep dealing with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, the importance of initiatives such as ESD is growing more and more apparent.”
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