Japanese universities pin funding hopes on Kishida cabinet

Sector leaders want to see cash flow beyond top universities and borders reopen for international students

October 13, 2021
Candidate for the presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Fumio Kishida to illustrate Japanese universities pin funding hopes on Kishida cabinet
Source: Getty

With Japan poised to hold a snap election to secure a popular mandate for its new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, on 31 October, the country’s higher education experts continue to hold out hopes that the incoming cabinet will bring positive changes – including greater financial security – for their sector.

Experts on Japanese universities who spoke to Times Higher Education expressed scepticism that Mr Kishida – who hails from the conservative and long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, like the previous prime minister, Yoshihide Suga – would take a great departure from the policies of his predecessor.

“I don’t believe there is going to be a radical change in the government’s approach to universities, but we may see a more targeted approach in investments…for example, semiconductors and energy, as Kishida seeks to bolster his wider agenda of economic security,” said Aki Tonami, associate professor of international relations and economics at the University of Tsukuba.

Others expressed hope that the Kishida administration would attempt to level the playing field for universities, shoring up research budgets and ensuring a broader distribution of funding to institutions beyond an elite few.

“We can expect an increase in public support for economically disadvantaged students and support for non-top universities” in Japan’s regions, said Takayuki Hayashi, director of science, technology and innovation at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, a Tokyo-based graduate school.

He expected the ¥10 trillion (£70 billion) fund for leading universities – a massive injection for Japanese research planned under Mr Suga – to proceed as planned. Professor Hayashi said public support for young researchers, including via the Fusion-Oriented Research for Disruptive Science and Technology fund promoting “ambitious, transdisciplinary research”, would also be strengthened.

But to gain popularity with universities, Mr Kishida might have to go much further.

“The biggest problem for Japanese universities is, first of all, that the base operating budget is substantially decreasing,” said Akira Mori, a professor in Yokohama National University’s Faculty of Environment and Information Sciences.

“University faculty…have to devote a considerable amount of time and effort to applying for research funds that have a low acceptance rate, and, as a result, they have less time to devote to education.”

Akiko Morozumi, a professor of higher education at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Education, noted that Mr Kishida would also need to ensure that universities could remain affordable for students. “Economic disparity is widening, and I believe that scholarship policy to reduce educational disparity is an important policy issue,” she said.

Masayuki Kobayashi, a professor at the J. F. Oberlin University and emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo, noted that Mr Kishida’s proposal to shift the country from neoliberalism to a “new Japanese capitalism” that emphasises the redistribution of funds could signal openness by his administration to tackle these issues.

“Though the concrete programmes are not clearly announced, Kishida says ‘redistribution and growth’ is the keyword for his administration,” said Professor Kobayashi.

But, for now, many institutions have their sights on another pressing priority: getting international students back into the country.

“At the moment, Japan remains the only G7 country that does not allow international students to enter the country due to Covid restrictions,” said Dr Tonami. “This obviously hinders Japanese universities’ international research collaboration, with knock-on effects for Japanese academia’s international standing.”


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