The Science and Technology Basic Plan and Internationalization of S&T
By Hajime Yamada (GLOCOM)
The Second Science and Technology Basic Plan of Japan which started this year dedicates a whole chapter to internationalization of Science and Technology (S&T.) The era when Japan had imitated or followed up on the policies of advanced nations ended in the 1980s. Those who are concerned with S&T policies now recognize that it is time for Japan to contribute to the rest of the world as one of the leaders in S&T. That is the reason for the emphasis on internationalization.
International cooperative studies are encouraged in many areas; analyzing human genome is one example. An international team including American, British, French and Japanese researchers lead the project. There are many similar international joint efforts underway. The themes vary from fundamental areas such as studies on the nuclear fusion or elementary particles to an attempt to establish an international network for high-speed data communications.
In addition, a recent policy to give a fair chance to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) including young businesses to carry on international cooperative studies is being promoted through governmental organizations. New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) made a public announcement regarding "International Joint Research Grant Program for Venture Enterprises" in the areas of medical and welfare technology development in order to cope with aging society, and energy and the global environment. The size of each grant will be up to an amount not exceeding 60 million-yen (approximately five hundred thousand US dollars) per project.
Also, researchers from abroad are being invited to Japan.
According to the statistics by National Science Foundation in 1997, 45 thousand out of 225 thousand professors and instructors, or 20% of the total number, teaching science and engineering at four-year colleges and universities in the US are originally from overseas. Among those professors the largest number came from India, and many others from China, UK and Taiwan. Many of them attained their doctor's degrees from the universities in the US. These researchers from outside the US are said to have become the strong point of American S&T.
The objective to invite foreign researchers to Japan is to fortify Japan's S&T competence by making good use of these scientists as is the case in the US. At the same time there is an expectation for those researchers to gain on understanding of Japanese culture and society while carrying on their studies in this country.
There is something that we should pay attention to when thus promoting internationalization of Japan's S&T. That is, in the fields of S&T, the flow of knowledge is not necessarily unilateral from advanced countries to developing ones. Rather, developing countries may have something to contribute to the progress of S&T, and so, it is most important that advanced nations and developing countries should try to keep an attitude to cooperate with each other.
A proof of this is the figures of NSF quoted above, which reveal that many professors from relatively less advanced countries compared with the US such as India, China and Taiwan now teach science and engineering at American universities.
With regard to industrial technology it used to be advocated that advanced countries created the latest and most expensive products while developing countries produced low-priced popular version of them. However, that is not true any more, especially in the high-tech field. No developing country today welcomes the transfer of decade-old personal computer technology. On the contrary, even a developing country can provide a key component to the world.
It can be interpreted that the life of high-tech products is becoming shorter and shorter, resulting in smaller differences in performance between the latest products and the popular versions, and therefore we can find products of similar quality made and utilized around the world.
As we have described above, internationalization of S&T requires two aspects. The one is to promote basic studies and higher education programs by gathering the best from the world. The other is for both advanced countries and developing ones to create opportunities to match each other's technological achievements and market demands, especially in the field of high-tech products. Japan's S&T can be truly internationalized when these two aspects are carried forward.