Tokyo gives budget boost to scientists

April 17, 1998

Government funds for Japanese research will increase by almost 5 per cent during the 1998-99 financial year as the country implements its five-year plan to increase spending on scientific research by as much as 50 per cent between 1996 and 2001. The new budget allocation will include more funds for the encouragement of basic science.

The encouragement of scientific research at universities, graduate schools, government labs and private laboratories is accepted as a crucial prerequisite for Japan's future economic development. The new funds for science are being provided at a time of cutbacks in elementary and high school education and tuition subsidies at the government-controlled national universities.

Favoured areas for increased research funding include the ministry of education's postdoctoral fellowship programme, which seeks to achieve 10,000 postdoctoral posts in Japan by the end of the decade. More funds are also being made available to help university science faculties develop their research ties with the industrial sector.

Research into global warming will receive higher allowances as part of the country's commitment to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases, while research connected with the life sciences will benefit from additional funds for genome-related research and the opening of a new Genome Frontier Research Institute.

But while more funds are being made available for scientific research new guidelines are being implemented to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of academia's research programmes. Science faculties at the national universities have already been told to conduct annual self- evaluations of their research and are now being encouraged to open their facilities to external reviewers.

Government agencies have also launched a series of external reviews of the performance of their research programmes. The ministry's Fifth Generation Computer Research Project, which lasted ten years but yielded few tangible results, is just one example of the type of costly research programmes which the funding agencies want to avoid supporting so generously in the future.

But many observers argue that the pace of implementation of evaluation is too slow and that much of Japan's research budget is still being squandered on poorly thought-out programmes.

Japan will be a major focus of Research on May 15.

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