The Japanese government has called for a major increase in its support for basic research. The decision to invest in basic research was passed into law with the enactment of The Fundamental Law on Science and Technology, in November 1995. The Japanese cabinet drafted the five-year Government Plan on Promotion of Science and Technology in July 1996. The plan called for doubling Japanese government support for basic research in five years, in absolute terms. In relative terms, the level of support for basic research was expected to be about the same as it is in many Western countries, about 1% of gross national product (GDP). In keeping with this plan, in the fall of 1996 the Science and Technology Agency (STA) proposed a draft S&T budget for fiscal year 1997 of ¥3,090.5 billion (increased almost 10%, from ¥2,811.3 billion the previous year).1

In addition to this increase in funding, the Japanese government is taking steps to strengthen the science infrastructure in Japan. All government agencies are participating in this new initiative, but three major Japanese government R&D organizations are most heavily involved, and all launched new large basic research programs: the Education Ministry (Monbusho), the Science and Technology Agency (STA), and the Ministry for International Trade and Industry (MITI).

Based on discussions with many Japanese researchers, however, it appears that some of the new funds are being distributed without a real peer review process to ensure quality or that the areas supported will be helpful to Japanese industry in the future. It takes years to build up a credible basic research effort, of course.

Finally, just as in the United States, graduate students will need jobs upon finishing their advanced degrees. There is concern in Japan that such jobs are not yet available nor will they be in the future in such numbers to match the new expected graduates from basic science departments. Discussion with industry seems to bear this out. Most prefer to hire MS graduates and stay away from PhDs.

In April 1997, the Japanese government passed several laws to stimulate cooperation between universities and industry, as well to help nurture small businesses. MITI for example, started to give grants to small companies under a program called "Foundation for Venture Business." Monbusho created a "Venture Business Laboratory." It is too early to judge the effectiveness of these measures.

1 Editor's note. The FY 1997 Japanese science and technology budget as actually appropriated evidently did not meet this goal. According to the National Science Foundation's Tokyo office (http://www.twics.com/~nsftokyo/rm97-06.html), the final science and technology budget for FY 1997 was actually 3,002.8 billion yen, a 6.8% increase over FY1996. This is far short of the 11% average annual growth rate needed to meet the stated goal of increasing the S&T budget to ¥17 trillion by the year 2000. Similarly, the initial (December 1997) S&T budget proposal for FY 1998 provided for only a 0.9% increase over FY 1997 spending (http://www.twics.com/~nsftokyo/rm98-02.html). However, supplemental R&D budget requests for FY 1998 announced in April of 1998 as part of an overall economic stimulus package (http://www.twics.com/~nsftokyo/rm98-10.html) may help bring the trend closer into line with the five-year plan's projections.
Published: September 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian