Turning Japanese innovation

In January, Japan’s government adopted a new .

The intention is to turn Japan into the world’s most innovation friendly-country and build a “supersmart society”.

The plan will guide national science and technology policy and 26 trillion yen – equivalent to 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product each year – in funding for the next five years.

Some argue that the stark shift in plan reflects national policy failings. Investments since 20 years ago when the government introduced the Basic Law on Science and Technology has not helped position the nation to cope with various national and regional socioeconomic challenges.

Others point to Japan’s science and technology success ever since, including growth in the number of graduate school students in the field of science from 150,000 to 250,000; the increase in researchers from 680,000 to 860,000; and  16 Nobel Prize winners since 2000.

Part of the new plan will focus on business, universities and government especially in defence. Other area of emphasis includes research to advance the use of information terchnology, artificial intelligence and robots in support of its “supersmart society” agenda.

As Japan society continues to age, innovations in areas such as aged care and medical treatment will become more pronounced. Moreover, addressing national economic competitiveness will require for example, addressing transportation and financial services.

Japan’s plan faces some challenges.

The lack of permanent employment especially for talented post-doctoral researchers. According to the Japan Times, the prospect of an unstable future is leading many students to shun pursuing a doctorate. After earning their masters degree, talented students are moving quickly into the workforce. Only 9.9% end up doing a doctorate.

An ageing academic cohort is another challenge. The percentage of university instructors 50 years old or older is climbing, while teaching positions for young academics is declining.

Fiscal tightening of university funding has also not helped. Over the past 11 years, annual grants to national universities have reduced by nearly 150 billion yen.

Link to report on the 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan

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