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"Scientific Trends in Japan -The University Reform," in the 1st Meeting of the Heads of Research Councils in Asia

November 6, 2003


Prof Chen Jia'er, President of NSFC, and
Dr Kim Chung-Duk, Chairman & CEO of KOSEF,
Let me kick off with presentations about the Japanese situation. Previously, I served as the vice minister of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, or MEXT, for two and half years. Based on my experiences at MEXT, I will talk today about the state of Japan's higher education and scientific research systems in the current transition period.

JSPS Budget
JSPS's 2003 budget is about 1.6 billion U.S. dollars. That's up 10% from last year, and four times larger than five years ago. This increase is due to a lot of hard work by the Japanese government to increase the budget for science and technology. At the same time, JSPS role has expanded bringing a bigger budget.

A big problem is that we have only 99 employees. However this shows how efficiently JSPS runs its programs.

Research Fields of 2003 Grants
Most of JSPS budget is set aside for grants-in-aid for research activities. This covers all academic fields including humanities and social sciences. Nowadays, well over 100,000 applications come to us, and among 45,000 of them could be awarded grants after a strict review process.

Postdocs invited by JSPS
JSPS aims to develop good relationships all over the world. One of the largest programs is to provide fellowships to young and capable scientists. Now, over 1,700 researchers from overseas are conducting research in Japan supported by JSPS. Researchers from China and Korea make up a large number of these, but also there are a number of scientists coming not only from the USA and Europe but also from Africa, and South American countries.

Independent Administrative Institution
Just recently, JSPS became an "independent administrative institution". This is along with the reform in Japan to have a smaller government. AIST (the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology) and other national laboratories have become independent already. And last month, not only JSPS, but also JST and RIKEN and others became independent. Next April, all national universities will become corporations due to a similar change.

But what is independence in this context?

JSPS will continue to have close contact with MEXT, especially for budget issues. But JSPS now has more autonomy for day-to-day operations and management. However, there is another side to the coin: JSPS has to set up 5-year objectives and plans with many targets in terms of how to improve the quality of our services. Our activities have to be monitored and evaluated by a special committee in MEXT.

University Reform, Why Needed?
I've given you a general explanation about JSPS. Now I'd like to focus on two specific topics; the first is university reform and the second is policies for raising educational standards in primary and secondary schools.

Firstly, regarding university reform, universities have been government institutions up till now. They are all obligated to follow the government's many rules and regulations. These many rules and regulations prevent universities from doing anything new.

Also, much of the national universities' funding is guaranteed by the government. This has been effective in ensuring their stable operations, but it has, on the other hand, shielded them from competition. This is why national universities are criticized as being a "well-guarded convoy."

Another problem is that the actual authority to make decisions at each university lies with their faculty council. Decisions require the consensus of all the council members. The university president does not have the authority to break deadlocks or enact reforms on his own discretion. As a result, no new initiatives are undertaken.

Because of this it is necessary to reform the national university system.

University Reform
I would like to highlight three points related to university reform in Japan. The first is "Merging National Universities". (This is being carried out to strengthen education and research.)

The second is Converting National Universities to "Corporations". (Universities will adopt managerial concepts used in the private sector.)

The third is "Fostering Universities of the World's Highest Standard". (The aim is to create universities with vitality and international competitiveness through participation in 'The 21st Century COE Program'.)

Three Types of Japanese Universities
Let me briefly explain the three types of universities in Japan. Within Japan's system of higher education, around 70% of the 690 universities are private. Only 15% or about 100 universities are national. They are part of the government and receive financial support from it. National universities have 62% of the graduate students and receive 70% of the grants. We can see that national universities are playing a key role in the area of research. This is why they are very important to the future advancement of research in Japan.

Merging National Universities
Now, let me return to "university reform."

I would first like to explain in more detail the 'Merging of National Universities.' The purpose of these reforms is to strengthen the higher education and advanced research infrastructure of Japan's 100 national universities. This is to be done by making the best use of their respective resources. The mergers are also aimed at creating economies of scale in order to effectively utilise limited resources.

The mergers being carried out will reduce the number of universities to 87 by this October. More mergers are planned in the future.

Let me be clear, however, that MEXT's purpose in making these mergers is not only to reduce the number of universities. It is also to promote collaborative research and enhanced curricula by encouraging cooperation among neighbouring universities.

Converting National Universities to "Corporations"
This leads me to the next point, creating 'National University Corporations.' This reform is to ensure the autonomous management of each national university. As I mentioned, the national universities were initially designed to be a part of the national government; our aim now, however, is to give them greater independence in their own management. By reducing government regulations and intervention, universities will be allowed greater responsibility over their operations.

One highlight of the new university corporation system will be the establishment of 'top-down management' carried out by an 'Executive Board' made up of the president and executives. In addition, "external executives" will be appointed and a management committee set up within each university.

Toward establishing clear operational objectives and a distinct institutional identity, each university will be obliged to draw up a 6-year-cycle plan.

The 21st Century COE Program
JSPS is playing an important role in implementing 'The 21st Century COE Program,' which is the third feature of Japan's 'University Reform'.
This program is carried out separately from the Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research Program, which has an annual budget of 1.5 billion dollars. The 21st Century COE Program causes the three types of Japanese universities to compete with each other for funding by requiring assessment-based competition. This competition is to challenge them to raise their standards of education and research to the world's highest level. The program began in 2002 and its budget for the first year was 150 million dollars. This year, its budget has been increased to 280 million dollars.

The COE program consists of ten research categories.

In the first year of the program, the following five categories were implemented.
•  Life sciences
•  Chemistry, material sciences
•  Information sciences, electrical and electronic engineering
•  Humanities
•  Interdisciplinary, combined fields, new disciplines
•  In this, the second year, the following five categories will be implemented.
•  Medical sciences
•  Mathematics, physics, earth sciences
•  Engineering
•  Social sciences
•  Interdisciplinary, combined fields, new disciplines
10-30 projects are to be selected in each category. Altogether, 113 proposals were adopted in 2002, with each project receiving from 800 thousand to 4 million dollars.

JSPS has established a "21st Century COE Program Board." It determines the overall evaluation policies and methods. Then, selection committees established in each category conduct the actual screening. Then the applicants receive both a document review and panel interview.

From its start The 21st Century COE Program has attracted a lot of media attention. The president of a university is responsible for filing applications for this grant, which differs from other programs. Thanks to this provision, university presidents are able to show strong leadership in selecting world-class projects to be implemented at their universities. The program design also allows flexibility in providing financial support for postgraduate students. These merits have led to a desire among universities to make use of this program in implementing their reforms.

The high amount of interest in the program is seen by the large number of applications submitted by universities. The number increased by 30% to 611 applications in 2003, compared to 464 in 2002. One of the things I can be proud of about this program is that JSPS disclosed all information on the selection process reporting every detail about how and why each individual proposal was selected. We published this detailed information because this program has attracted such huge interest from many universities and the media.

School (K-12) -- Raising Educational Standards
I would like to now talk about K-12 education.

"National Curriculum"
In 2001, we revised the National Curriculum so as to streamline educational content, create a zest for living among students, and implement a five-day school week. Curricula were improved so as to provide students with better stimulus to learn, think, and make decisions, and help them improve their abilities to act creatively and independently.

According to PISA results, the average scores of Japanese students rank quite well, but only a few students are at the highest level. The average score is high because there are only a few low-level students. We are concerned, however, because there are also only a few students at the highest level.

Japanese are known for their work and study ethic, but the amount of homework done by Japanese students is the lowest among all the countries surveyed. Also, only a few students indicate that they like math and science.

Action Plans for School Performance
To tackle these problems, MEXT has launched an action plan for enhancing school performance.

First is to use flexible teaching methods tailored to each student's level. This includes designating a number of high schools as "frontier schools" or models of good educational practices.

Second is to elevate student motivation. This includes providing a variety of curricula, including hand‚“-on activities.

Third is to strengthen the individuality and ability of students. For this purpose, both "super science" and "super English" high schools are being established.

Fourth is to improve their English and Japanese language skills. To accomplish this, special training is provided for language teachers, and students are encouraged to participate in international exchanges.

MEXT's "I Love Science!" Program
Under these circumstances, I was personally engaged at MEXT last year in establishing the "I Love Science!" Program, which consists of several components. This is not just a passive measure to prevent young people from moving away from the sciences, but is a strong effort to foster a love for science in Japanese students.

From last year, MEXT began a program to designate high schools with a strong science and math curriculum as "Super Science High Schools". Around 45 such schools were designated this year.

I turn next to the "Science Partnership Program." It is aimed at stimulating student interest in science through classroom and other educational activities. Under this program, university researchers teach at secondary schools and students visit universities.

Lastly, we also have initiated a program called "e-Science Initiative". Its purpose is to develop advanced digital learning aids for science and technology education.

This concludes my presentation on the science and technology policies that encompass the structural reform of Japanese universities. I am glad we have the opportunity to share good practices with each other and to further strengthen our mutual contact.

Thank you very much.