Research and university funding in Japan appears safe after recent threatened cuts, but some larger programmes still face sharp cutbacks

Ned Stafford/Hamburg, Germany 

Intensive lobbying efforts appear to have helped reduce the threatened cuts to research and university funding in Japan, but some large programmes have been targeted for sharp cutbacks. 

The news came in the announcement of the preliminary 2010 budget at the end of December. Alongside the funding revelations, the Japanese scientific community was also heartened that science and technology will be one of several areas prioritised by the new government to help revive the sluggish economy. 

"The overall research budget was not shrunk very much, but these cuts for strategic programmes will cause big problems" - Yoshihito Watanabe, Nagoya University

Yoshihito Watanabe, a chemist and vice president at Nagoya University, Japan, tells Chemistry World that although the new budget does include some big cuts, such as in a project to build the world’s fastest supercomputer, it was not as bas as feared. ’Generally speaking, the overall research budget was not shrunk very much,’ he says.

Jun Okuda, a native of Japan and chairman of the Institute of Organometallic Chemistry at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, says: ’They cut here and there, but generally it was not so bad. Overall, Japanese funding is still among the best in the world.’ 

Okuda adds that despite a recent change in government, he does not expect Japanese research to suffer. ’Research funding in Japan in recent years has been really good, especially when compared to Europe,’ he says. ’The old government more or less let the scientists do whatever they wanted in terms of funding. They were very generous.’

This is going to stop under the new government, which will provide more oversight in the research budget process, he says. ’Some are saying the new Japanese government is getting more like a European government.’

In November 2009, the new government proposed major cuts in research funding as part of a broader deficit reduction plan. The proposals triggered howls of criticism from Japanese scientists and academics, who appealed for support from the global scientific community.

Watanabe says the public outcry helped convince the new government to soften the blows to spending. ’The Ministry of Education made a great effort to minimise possible budget cuts by the new government,’ he says. ’Many academic communities and individuals also worked hard against the budget cut.’

But while the 2010 budget for public universities is facing cuts only of about one per cent, Watanabe says the Global 30 programme to spur internationalisation of Japanese universities is looking at cuts of 19 per cent and the country’s Global Centers of Excellence Program faces cuts of 23 per cent.

’These big cuts for strategic programmes will cause big problems,’ he says, adding that research students are likely to see salary cuts or lose positions. ’We are not able to extend the contracts of a number of supporting staff working for these programs.’