| The World Premier International Research Center Initiative (WPI Program) was launched in 2007 by the Ministry of Education and Science (MEXT) in a drive to build within Japan “globally visible” research centers that boast a very high research standard and outstanding research environment, sufficiently attractive to prompt frontline researchers from around the world to want to work in them. These centers are given a high degree of autonomy, allowing them to virtually revolutionize conventional modes of research operation and administration in Japan. The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science is entrusted by MEXT to carry out the program’s proposal screening and project assessment processes while performing other administrative functions as the program's secretariat.
Dr. Anzai with Dr. Imura at reception
The research centers whose projects are selected for WPI grants meet the following criteria:
Based on these criteria, five WPI centers were selected in FY 2007, to which another was added in FY 2010. These large-scale, long-duration WPI projects receive funding from the Japanese government in an annual amount of about ¥1.4 billion over 10-15 years. Then, in FY 2012 a WPI Focus Program was launched, under which three centers were selected. Altogether, nine WPI projects are in current operation.
- Science: Top world-level scientific research
- Globalization: Internationalized research environment and operation
- Fusion: Interdisciplinary domains generated by merging existing research fields
- Reform: Revamped and streamlined research organization
| Overseeing the full scope of those operations is the WPI Program Committee, comprising top-notch researchers, administrators, and financial specialists. One-third of the committee’s members are leading overseas researchers. Functioning under the Program Committee is a program director who jells together the entire WPI operation; program officers who are assigned to each center, and working groups that carry out site visits of each center. Each group has about six members, half of whom are researchers from other countries, including the US, UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Finland and Mexico.
MEXT minister Mr. Shimomura giving
System of Program Management Unseen Elsewhere
The WPI Program incorporates a unique follow-up system to sustain and advance the thrust of each center’s research project. Each fiscal year, the WPI centers submit a progress report to the Follow-up team comprising the program director, assigned program officer, and working group. In turn, they conduct a site visit of the centers to further assess the progress being made in their research activities. During these visits, the team receives a report on the progress of the center’s previous year’s activities and holds discussions with its principal investigators and young researchers. Based on these various inputs, the team compiles a report and submits it to the Program Committee. Convening in the fall of every year, the Committee holds a hearing with the representatives of each center; and, based on these follow-up results, it reports to MEXT and provides advice to the centers. These results are posted for public access on the WPI webpage (jsps.go.jp/wpi). Each center is obligated to act upon the recommendations provided by the Program Committee and to describe the actions taken in their following year’s progress report.
In conjunction with the Program Committee meeting each fall, JSPS hosts a dinner reception for the WPI center representatives, which is attended by officials of various embassies and government agencies. A subsidiary facet of this get-together is to spread the WPI Program’s appeal over a wide swath of countries and organizations. This year’s reception was held on 29 October at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo. It began with messages from MEXT minister Mr. Hakubun Shimomura and JSPS president Dr. Yuichiro Anzai. Then, WPI Program Committee chair Dr. Hiroo Imura proposed a toast, after which the participants enjoyed pleasant yet animated conversation with one another over dinner. A panel display on the research activities of each WPI center was set up at the doorway of the hall, where people gathered to share information on the latest scientific trends and engage each other in spirited exchanges of views. Throughout the gathering a charged atmosphere prevailed.