Japan’s Basic Plan for S&T to 2007 inspired by Budapest

10 August 2001 Japan’s Basic Plan for Science and Technology (S&T) for the next five years takes its inspiration from the World Conference on Science.

Adopted by Parliament on 30 March 2001, the Basic Plan for 2002–2007 makes reference to key areas of the Declaration and Science Agenda, including international cooperation on global issues, ethics in S&T and public–private partnerships in industry.

Chapter One, for example, underscores the need for the ‘unified wisdom’ of the natural, social and human sciences to treat bioethics, the digital divide and environmental issues, among others. It states that S&T is indispensable for realizing worldwide sustainable develoment and for solving global issues such as world population control, freshwater management, food and energy security, global warming and the prevention of infectious diseases.

The Basic Plan speaks of ‘elevating the ethics consciousness of researchers and engineers’, so that they ‘recognize their responsibility to society and to the status of their field in society’. Academic societies are invited to draw up moral guidelines and to introduce moral issues into engineer certification and the university curricula. Accountability is to become a byword in institutes and among researchers, who are encouraged to foster discussion on latest developments in research through public exhibitions, open lectures and the use of Internet.

The fields of bioengineering and information technology are cited as examples of areas where a social consensus and international harmonization will be necessary to ensure the dignity of human beings.

The Council for Science and Technology Policy (CSTP), which is to implement the Basic Plan, is to act not only as a ‘control tower’ but also as a think tank on the dual nature of S&T – with its positive and negative effects. The Plan invites the CSTP to attach greater importance to ethics and social responsibility, in recognition of the fact that ‘science is for and in society’.

The Basic Plan is turned resolutely towards the outside world. Goals include increasing the citation rate of Japanese scientific papers, generating Nobel laureates and providing Centres of Excellence capable of attracting foreign researchers.

As part of its efforts to internationalize domestic science, Japan will continue to propose and conduct international cooperative projects on global issues and fundamental research and will enhance the dissemination of information around the world.

Three top priorities are identified: the promotion of fundamental research; the allocation of substantial resources to the four strategic areas of research and development (R&D), namely the life sciences, information technology, environmental research, nanotechnology and materials; and support for emerging fields, such as bio-informatics, systems-biology and nano-biology. Social infrastructure is catalogued among the secondary priorities, as are energy, manufacturing and exploration.

To stimulate excellence, the Basic Plan outlines measures which place researchers at the heart of reform. Measures advocated include doubling competitive research funds and introducing 30% of indirect costs, and improving mobility by encouraging fixed-term appointments and recruitment on an apply-and-review basis. The system of resource allocation will be reviewed within the evaluation system. Young researchers will be encouraged to be independent through a greater allotment of special funds and better conditions for associate professors and research assistants. Career paths will be widened and conditions improved for foreign researchers and female researchers (see also WCS Newsletter of 2 May 2001).

Universities will be encouraged to turn out scientists and engineers with ‘creativity, originality and a broad outlook’. External experts will be called upon to evaluate the universities and the findings will be made public. The government will also seek to stimulate a vocation in science and engineering from the primary level upwards.

Cooperation between industry, academia and the government is also to be re-examined to foster technology transfer, including through an ‘exclusive and transferable patent system’.

In infrastructure development, the Basic Plan foresees maintenance and improvement of world-class facilities in research institutes and universities. Information will circulate across a higly sophisticated LAN and information network. Intellectual property rights will be fine-tuned to encourage international standardization.

And last but not least, the manufacturing sector is to be doted with a database of failures and success stories.

Source : Naoko Kushioka, Japanese National Commission for UNESCO