The First Science and Technology Basic Plan
By Hajime Yamada (GLOCOM)
After the enactment of the Science and Technology Basic Law, the first Science and Technology Basic Plan (hereinafter the Plan) was put into practice in 1996. In this report I explain some important contents described in the Plan. Throughout the report I use unofficial translation of the Plan provided by the government, which can be found in http://www.mext.go.jp/english/kagaku/scienc03.htm.
The "Introduction" section of the Plan describes some backgrounds of the Plan. It included the following diagnoses:
- Science and technology in Japan has fallen into the most severe situations in recent years; on a national basis, investment in R&D decreased in fiscal 1993 and 1994, and has been on a decline in the private sector for three years in a row since fiscal 1992;
- Many elements in the systems that have long supported Japan's development are turning out to be hindrances as society, the economy and the international environment change. Such elements tend to lack flexibility and competitiveness, and instead hampers cooperation and exchanges beyond organizations;
- Development of information and intellectual infrastructure for R&D is lagging behind the United States and Europe. The total number of research supporters is significantly low compared to the number of researchers (including technicians, hereafter). Furthermore, there is concern over the "hollowing-out" of R&D activities; and
- Top priorities include: to radically improve the environment so as to upgrade the R&D abilities of industrial, academic, and governmental circles; to formulate and carry out policies to make the best use of such improvements; and to facilitate all achievements for use by the public, society and the economy.
These diagnoses obviously demonstrate that the government recognized the necessity of increasing R&D investment and changing the R&D system. Comprehensive guidelines were described after the planning section. Especially in the fifth guideline, we can find a strong will to increase the scale of R&D investment:
- To establish a nation based on the creativity of science and technology, the government will strive to promote R&D activities with its resources to cope with the socio-economic needs;
- The government will construct new systems for R&D to cope with the new era, with an emphasis on research activities that make best use of the researchers' creativity. Exchanges among R&D institutions such as universities and research institutes, among national, private, and local governmental sectors, and among nations should be promoted and strengthened. Moreover, it is necessary to activate R&D in Japan as a whole by conducting impartial evaluations;
- A researcher conducting research freely with state-of-the-art equipment in a quiet and comfortable office at a beautiful campus or R&D institution. Creating such an environment is a symbol towards promoting intellectual and cultural assets in the 21 century. This also sends an encouraging message to young people who will support science and technology in the coming generations;
- The government will strive to: foster talented people who are creative and independent and who have dreams and the passion for science and technology; and to create an environment in which the public can feel close to, and have an interest in, science and technology. Based on the Basic Guidelines for Securing Science and Technology-oriented Personnel, the government will intensify the publication and education of science and technology by; enhancing science and technology education at elementary and secondary schools, and holding various workshops for young people; and
- The Basic Policy for Science and Technology and the Social and Economic Plan for Structural Reforms - Towards a Vital Economy and Secure Life recommend doubling R&D Investment by the Government as soon as possible. Achieving this target by the end of the term is desired with the idea of increasing investments to the level of major western nations by the early 21st century, in terms of its proportion to the GDP. In other words, it is necessary to raise total budget for science and technology to some 17 trillion yen by the year 2000.
Under the comprehensive guidelines described above, the following targets were listed as detailed plan:
- To achieve a program to support 10,000 postdoctorals by fiscal 2000, and undertake various other support measures to expand and nurture young researchers;
- To secure technical staff members systematically, and ensuring the appropriate treatment of staff members based on the substance and role of such assisting duties at national universities/research institutions;
- The government will begin establishing a system of employing researchers to national research institutes on a fixed term;
- To secure personnel from private enterprises through contracts, to assist the activities of research leaders or other researchers in national research institutes;
- The government will further promote joint research activities between national research institutes and the private sector, and at the same time, for this purpose utilizing a leave of absence system for researchers of national research institutes;
- To open Japan's research system to the world, promoting the appointment and acceptance of foreign researchers;
- It is important that evaluation be conducted properly, according to the purpose and nature of each institution, for effective R&D and appropriate treatment of personnel;
- Approximately 50% of facilities of national universities are 20 years old or more. In the revised building standards, the standard unit has increased 20% in order to lessen the small-roomed situation in the buildings;
- To provide computers with information/communications functions for all national researchers engaged in research activities by fiscal 2000;
- To expand competitive funds that contribute to the formation of a competitive research environment;
- Assist key research organizations; implement support programs such as high-tech research centers program at private universities, thereby promoting research projects with high social demand;
- To utilize tax preference measures for the promotion of R&D activities, for example, the Tax Deduction on Experimental and Research Expense Increments that is designed to encourage, in general, private R&D; and
- To expand opportunities for experiencing nature, and inquiring/practical activities such as observation, experiments, practice, and handicraft.
The evaluations of the performance of the Plan will be explained in the next issue.