world-class research, Japan
© Sean Pavone |

The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science works to ensure the advancement of world-class research in all fields of science both at home and in international partnerships, as this article reveals

Since 1932, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) has worked to support the advancement of all fields of natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities.

In addition to directly funding scientific research, the JSPS, or Gakushin, fosters talent among young scientists, promotes science-related international exchange and supports the globalisation of Japan’s universities.

While guided by the broad framework of government policies to promote science, the JSPS has since 2003, operated as an independent administrative body, allowing its programmes to be more flexible to the needs of individual researchers, universities and institutes.

As part of its aim to create diverse, world-level knowledge, the JSPS oversees the Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (KAKENHI) initiative, which supports research across all fields of science with an emphasis on creative and pioneering projects carried out based on researchers’ free ideas.

Every year, the KEKENHI programme distributes around ¥228.4 billion, over 50% of Japan’s total competitive research funding.

Projects can be proposed by individuals or groups of researchers affiliated with Japanese universities or other research institutions. More than 7,000 researchers carry out a peer review of applications, with funding awarded to those schemes judged to be of high potential and in line with cutting-edge scientific goals.

In order to ensure Japan retains its international position as a leading centre of scientific research in the future, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport Science & Technology (MEXT) recommended reform of the KEKENHI system to position academic research as a source of national strength.

A three-pronged reform process is underway looking at the review system in light of the rising number of applications and changing trends, as well as the research categories and frameworks to earmark funding specifically for challenging research, especially promoted research and aid for young scientists.

In addition, greater flexibility has been implemented in the use of grants with the introduction of a multi-year fund that allows researchers to carry over funds into the next fiscal year.

Following a 2012 report by Council for Science & Technology, the JSPS established a programme to contribute to advancing the humanities and social sciences in three key areas: joint research that will yield breakthroughs through close links with other fields of science; joint research aimed at making contributions to society; and international joint research. In 2017, the programme was funded with ¥208 million.

Within the programme, work is carried out in three subsets. Area Cultivation seeks research topics from different scientific fields that can spur unexpected jumps to new areas and more innovative methodologies. The second strand is responding to “Real Society”, with collaboration between researchers and working-level specialists, from the planning and implementation of research to the dissemination of results. The final subset concerns global initiatives, which seeks to establish a dialogue between Japanese and overseas researchers to generate globally significant results through joint research.

In 2007, MEXT launched the World Premier International Research Centre Initiative (WPI), which sought to build a top-class research base for “super-calibre” researchers and concentrate funding for Japanese research institutes that work to achieve globally significant science.

In 2017, the ministry issued an open call for proposals for two new WPI centres and established a WPI Academy to promote the programme’s work internationally.

MEXT commissioned JSPS to carry out WPI grant selection, perform evaluations and oversee project progress using procedures prescribed by the ministry. JSPS also manages the operation of the WPI Academy and supports the activities of the WPI centres with the aim of optimising the programme’s output.

JSPS launched its fourth midterm plan in 2018. It is designed to respond to demands for scientific research to be highlight competitive, comprehensive, interdisciplinary and international.

Dr Yuichiro Anzai, JSPS President, says that when it comes to delivering the plan: “We will undertake to carry out our programs and operations in an ever-more efficient and effective manner toward meeting JSPS’s current and new mid-term objectives”.

“Concurrently, we will apply the full strength of JSPS’s organization to meeting the needs of researchers and students aspiring to careers in science, while working to satisfy the public’s multifaceted expectations for benefits derived from scientific advancement”, he adds.

“The kind of superlative knowledge that contributes to developing a robust human society is born out of a continuum of original, cutting-edge research activities carried out by researchers ceaselessly striving to advance science across a spectrum of the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Such scientific thrust is the engine that drives the international competitiveness of a nation’s industry and that elevates its persona within the global community. For Japan, it also plays an essential role in building a knowledge-based society.

“Scientific research lies at the wellspring of superlative knowledge creation. The fostering of talented people who can shoulder the advancement of such cutting-edge research is more important now than ever before.”


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