The bid to promote much-needed enterprise and entrepreneurship in Japanese universities has been boosted by new legislation in the Diet that will convert Japan's 99 state-run national universities into independent agencies.
The new agencies will be able to work more closely with private industry by accepting research contracts and by getting involved in a wide range of collaborative commercial ventures.
Stringent civil service regulations at present prevent the national universities, and other state-run organisations, from establishing close commercial links with industry.
The new law will mean that lecturers and other academic staff will forfeit their status as civil servants to become independent contractors who can accept consultancy work, directorships and other commissions from private companies. One of the motivating factors for the decision to bring legislation to the Diet was the resignation of several leading academics who were unable to accept directorships from private companies without relinquishing their academic posts.
Under the new arrangements, lecturers could also have the opportunity to take leave from their academic posts to work full- time in private companies.
The transformation of the national universities into independent agencies will enable academic staff to benefit directly from the commercialisation of their ideas and research work. Patent rights will be given to the researchers responsible for profitable ideas as part of a move that is intended to promote creativity and enterprise in universities. The high-ranking national universities have been repeatedly criticised for being too preoccupied with ivory tower research and for being too far removed from the world of industry.
But there are fears that the arrangements could result in academics neglecting their teaching commitments to concentrate on more profitable research work and business spin-offs.
There has also been criticism of the decision to use third-party groups to monitor the independent agencies, which will be held accountable for their own costs and revenues.