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Budget Cut Hit Reearch Funding in Japan

By Yoshimichi Sato, Tohoku University

The new cabinet in Japan is planning to substantively reduce the budget of the Global Centers of Excellence (COE) Program. The purpose of the program is to foster excellent research/education centers in Japan so that they could be competitive in the international arena and create excellent junior scholars active in the world. There are fourteen COE centers in social science, and all of them are under the risk of a 33% budget reduction.

During the general election the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the current dominant party, appeared to support an increased budget for science and technology, and so scholars were optimistic. However, after winning the election and forming the cabinet last summer, the new government found itself with a huge budget deficit for the next fiscal year. Accordingly, the cabinet organized open debates between “budget cutters” and bureaucrats demanding their funding. Many bureaucrats lost the debates with the result that many scientific activities and grants now face considerable budget cuts. The Global COE Program, in particular, became a target for fiscal austerity.

When examining the budget for the construction of a super computer, a “budget cutter” asked bureaucrats why scientists need the fastest computer in the world. “Why is a second or third rank computer not enough?” She seems not to understand that only the first scientific finding is valuable. Once Watson and Crick discovered the double helix of DNA, discovering it again would have been worthless. Science has to keep up wuith the latest techniques if it is to be innovative.  Part of the problem has been that the bureaucrats, unskilled in such debate, were no match for the budget-cutting politicians and executives of private firms. Thus, it is not surprising that the “budget cutters” won the debates.

Budget reduction in hard times of decreasing revenues is understandable. However, if the cabinet implements a huge reduction in funding for scientific activities, this could deal Japanese science a major blow from which it might never recover.

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