JSPS Quarterly
No.17 2006 Autumn Topics

Japan's Third Science and Technology Basic Plan

On 28 March, the Japanese government launched its third comprehensive plan to systematically advance science and technology.

Each designed with a 10-year vista, these S&T Basic Plans provide concrete measures to promote science and technology over their 5-year implementation periods. Following the second plan, which ended in FY 2005, this third plan will run from FY 2006 through FY 2011. The first plan placed emphasis on strengthening support for Japanese postdoctoral researchers, introducing a program to increase their number to 10,000. The second plan called for a strategic distribution of capital investment, setting eight domains for priority R&D funding with particular focus on the four fields of life sciences, information and telecommunications, environmental sciences, and nanotechnology and materials. Building upon the results of investments made via the first and second plans, the 3rd S&T Basic Plan seeks to feed the fruits of publicly supported S&T research back into society. Its design reflects the need to foster researchers and other human resources who can produce a wide variety of high-quality research results, to cultivate a highly competitive research environment in Japan, and to advance science while continually spawning innovation. Establishing a framework for strategic government investment to meet these ends, the plan is composed in five chapters.

(1) Basic Ideas
(2) Strategic Priority Setting in S&T
(3) Reforming the S&T System
(4) S&T to be Supported by Society and the Public
(5) Role of the Council for Science and Technology Policy

Chapter 1, "Basic Ideas," articulates the plan's basic stance, reflecting the public's strong expectation in the role of science and technology. Accordingly, it emphasizes gaining public support for science and technology and using the results of S&T activities to benefit society, while fostering excellent human resources and strengthening the competitive research environment. It also sets concrete policy goals with regard to what should be achieved through S&T activities funded under the scheme. Despite the stringent fiscal climate overshadowing Japan, the plan allocates ¥25 trillion (about 208 billion US dollars) in total R&D investment over its 5-year duration.

Chapter 2, "Strategic Priority Setting in S&T," provides a two-pillar S&T investment strategy that optimizes the use of limited funds. It places priority on (1) advancing basic research and (2) conducting policy-directed research and development. Projects will be selected and funding concentrated in these two areas. To the four priority fields designated in the second basic plan, the third plan advances research in the four additional fields of energy, manufacturing technology, social infrastructure, and frontier. Funding of both curiosity-driven and policy-directed R&D projects will be allocated in such a way as to optimally achieve the plan's stated goals. Accordingly, funding priority will be based on the following imperatives: (1) quickly meeting public needs for a safe, secure society; (2) strengthening Japan's international S&T competitiveness; and (3) supporting Japan-led large-scale projects, particularly in areas of key technologies of national importance.

Chapter 3, "Reforming the S&T System," provides a range of measures to advance Japan's S&T thrust into the future, while sustaining and strengthening its international competitiveness. In this respect, it considers people to be Japan's most important asset. Consequently, it promotes the fostering, securing and proactive utilization of human resources through a variety of means. For examples, the plan mandates opportunities for young researchers to do work independently based on their own free ideas. It seeks to invigorate the research environment through likewise supporting the autonomy of young researchers. It widens the scope of competitive grant policy to allow female researchers to suspend or extend their funded work for the purpose of childbearing and infant nursing. It also provides for talented researchers, irrespective of their nationality, to come to Japan and participate as active members of its research community.

Chapter 4, "S&T to be Supported by Society and the Public," stresses the need for public backing, as it is not possible for S&T activities to stand aloof from society and the public. It is only with wide public support that such activities can achieve significant successes. In this vein, rules need to be established with regard life ethics and other scientific impacts on society. Concurrently, measures need to be taken to obtain the public's understanding and support of science and technology. To this end, the plan calls for the greater dissemination of information on research and its results by both research institutions and individual researchers and for expanded opportunities for members of the public to participate in a broader range of S&T activities.

Established in 2001, the Council for Science and Technology Policy is chaired by Japan's prime minister and made up of the chief cabinet secretary; the ministers of State for Science and Technology Policy; Internal Affairs and Communications; Finance; Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; and Economy, Trade and Industry; along with a number of executive members from academia and industry. As such, the Council acts as a command post that overarches Japan's government ministries and agencies in prescribing national strategies—a mission it undertakes with farsighted perspectives and through a highly responsive operation.

A provisional translation of the entire 3rd S&T Basic Plan is posted on the webpage of the Cabinet Office.

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JSPS Quarterly No.17 2006