Pressure from academics on Japan’s newly elected government is increasing, calling for urgent and drastic reforms to bolster the declining international status of the country’s universities and academic research.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won the House of Representatives (lower house) elections last Sunday. The LDP has continuously ruled Japan since its inception in 1955. It advocates policies geared towards economic growth in close cooperation with big business, a mandate based on stability rather than creating momentum for change. who won electoral support.
Jiro Hasumi, professor of political science at Kyushu National University, said, âFaced with Kishida at this time, there is an urgent need to support universities to meet demands for diversity and global challenges. But I do not expect major reforms from the PLD, which continues to prioritize the national economy over other priorities.
One of the main concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic expressed by universities is the need for additional funding to strengthen research in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Experts have also long pointed out that support for improving backward research activities in these areas is closely related to the slow globalization of its universities in Japan.
Monte Cassim, the newly elected president of Akita International University in northern Japan, highlighted the significant changes needed in the country’s old post-war policies which are now challenged by globalization and national social changes .
âThe priority for higher education is to strengthen innovation among students. Achieving this goal requires policies based on new foresight and new ethics. But it doesn’t come from risk averse politicians and bureaucrats, âhe said.
Cassim, who has a background in science and engineering and is the former president of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Kyushu, said the way forward is to deliver programs that promote innovative technology and global connectivity to help students to get into start-ups.
âYoung university students are well aware that jobs in 2030 are not easy to define. Higher education in Japan must respond to this reality, âsaid Cassim News from academia.
The University of Tokyo, Japan’s leading national university, announced on October 1 that it was setting up a new fund of 100 billion yen (878 million US dollars) from donations and income from public projects. that will allow more flexible use with respect to government funding, including inviting outstanding researchers from Japan and abroad.
But it is also an indication that he did not expect an increase in government subsidies, experts said, and that he had to fund policies outside the rigid confines of government. A fundraiser was announced on October 1 with the stipulation of flexible use of the money in relation to strict regulations governing government grants.
The university has said as part of its new funding policy that it will inject 60 billion yen (US $ 527 million) over the next decade through another fund that allows its students and teachers to start businesses. Another key goal, which would be difficult to use with government grants, is to increase its female student rate from 23.8% to 30% by 2030.
In 2019, Japan had the lowest proportion of women studying science among 36 comparable member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which are mostly advanced economies. The number of women entering STEM at tertiary level was 27%, lower than the OECD average of 52%.
Under the University of Tokyo’s plan, the current rate of female teachers of 18% would also rise to 25% in five years, including increasing the ratio of women among newly hired researchers to 30% or more.
Funding of science and technology
Emphasizing the economic policy of higher education and citing the need to compete with other countries such as China, the LDP this year announced bold investments in STEM, with goals of reaching 30,000 billion JPY ($ 264 billion) for R&D over five years from fiscal 2021 to 2025 and 120 trillion yen (US $ 1,000 billion) in combined public and private funding.
It was presented as a policy aimed at stimulating economic growth and ensuring “economic security” rather than stimulating universities.
The government cites economic security as the source of most of its science and technology spending, and has promised new economic security legislation to prevent the leakage of sensitive technologies to other countries.
Immediately before the election, Kishida pledged that one of his first initiatives would be a 500 billion yen (US $ 4.4 billion) fund to support R&D for the development of infectious disease vaccines and new drugs. , as part of its commitment to strengthen Japan’s response to COVID-19. as well as science and technology. While it does include some funding for basic research, most of these funds are for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
An economic package “worth tens of billions of yen” will be drawn up in the coming weeks to strengthen measures against the coronavirus and ensure steady economic growth, Kishida promised ahead of the October 31 elections.
The Kyodo news agency said the government would also increase its huge “university fund” by some 600 billion yen (5.3 billion US dollars) as part of this effort to improve research activities.
Aiming to reverse the decline of scientific research in Japan and make it competitive on a global scale, the fund announced in March of this year, worth 4.5 trillion yen (US $ 40 billion) in funding government seed, is expected to be launched by March 2022 as part of the Japan Science and Technology Agency to help Japanese universities invest in future research. Kishida is seeking to eventually expand it to around 10,000 billion yen ($ 88 billion), Kyodo reported.
Commenting on the November 2 publication of the latest QS Asia University Rankings which places the best Japanese university, the University of Tokyo, in 11th place, behind the universities of Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China, the research director of QS , Ben Sowter, noted that Japanese universities are stagnant.
âThe latest edition of our Asian ranking confirms that the Japanese higher education system is losing ground relative to its regional peers, especially China,â he said. âIt is essential to level the playing field for Japanese universities, to secure substantial research budgets and to optimize the distribution of funding among all institutions, not just the most important. “
Sowter continued, âThe announced government fund of 10,000 billion yen to boost research at Japanese universities is an important step in the right direction. Yet much remains to be done to restore the international reputation and competitiveness of Japanese universities – for example, reopen to international students and faculty, align with other G7 countries, as soon as possible.
âFinally, the promotion of university education in a country with a declining young population and growing economic disparities must go hand in hand with reforms to ensure the affordability of such education. ”
The importance of actively recruiting and supporting international students is also a key demand of the new government. Experts said that Japan needs more IT talent, which can be met by foreign students who studied in Japan.
Takashi Kumon, a professor at Asian University who teaches management studies and global leadership, also calls for government policies that allow foreign students to play an inclusive role in Japanese businesses, noting that only 30% of foreign students high-level graduates skills from Japanese universities are employed in Japanese companies.
In a recent article from Japan’s leading business magazine, Toyo Keizai, he wrote that the trend was for foreign graduates to leave Japan after an average of five years, marking a loss for Japan.
Hasumi of Kyushu University and others have expressed common frustration among universities struggling with strict Japan’s COVID-19-related immigration regulations that have blocked 90% of international students in 2020.
Japan has accepted just over 49,000 foreign students, up from nearly 122,000 in 2019. It is the only country in the Group of Seven (G7) economies to have banned new international students as part of its fight against the pandemic.
The Japan Association for the Education of International Students, made up of universities, pointed out that Japan is losing credibility with international students who are now enrolling in other countries.
News from academia Asia Editor-in-Chief Yojana Sharma contributed to this article.