Priorities for the Japanese Economy in 2015 (January 2015)

A Year for Establishing a Science and Technology Basic Plan

TAMURA Suguru
Senior Fellow, RIETI

The Fifth Science and Technology Basic Plan, covering the five years from FY2016 to FY2020, will be established in FY2015. Four Science and Technology Basic Plans have been established already since FY1996.

This column takes this as an opportune time to explain the significance of the Science and Technology Basic Plan and discuss its outlook going forward.

Role of the Science and Technology Basic Plan and the process of establishing it

Science and technology are a source of strength for Japan. The reason for establishing five-year plans is that the advancement of science and technology requires predictable long-term policy. Research projects at the university level, for example, generally require three to five years to complete. Projects to develop new products at companies likewise need a research period and product development period of about the same length. Three to five years may seem like a long time. Moreover, you may be thinking of massively expensive research and development (R&D) projects, costing in the hundreds of millions of yen, but this is not always the case. The government of Japan allocates money to advance R&D in the natural sciences, as well as the humanities, at the rate of a few million yen per case, but, in general, the time frame for R&D is about three to five years. Performing R&D inevitably requires money and human resources, but the important point is that it also requires a certain amount of time. Plans that are established in advance help prepare an environment in which research can be conducted stably.

The Science and Technology Basic Plan sets directions for science and technology policy in Japan within a large framework over a five-year period. Each time, the plan is established as based on the Science and Technology Basic Act in consultation with the prime minister. It is the job of the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation to decide on a draft version of the plan. The prime minister chairs the Council, which also draws members from the Cabinet and influential members of the Diet. The Council meets periodically to discuss a variety of important science and technology issues. The establishment of a Basic Plan was referred to the Council in October 2014. The process of establishing the Fifth Plan will be taking place in earnest for about the next year.

In principle, there are two central issues within the Science and Technology Basic Plan: system innovation and identification of important research fields. System innovation means making improvements to a variety of systems relating to science and technology. Specifically, this includes establishing, modifying, or eliminating methods of managing science and technology budgets and a range of rules relating to scientific and technological research. Identification of important research fields means identifying issues with which the national government will take the lead in R&D for five years. The objective is to concentrate the government's policy resources into those fields.

Structure of the Science and Technology Basic Plan

To give you a more concrete image of the plan, let's take a look at the principles in the Fourth Plan. The current Fourth Science and Technology Basic Plan sets the following as its policy aims:

  • Realization of sustainable growth and societal development into the future
  • Key challenges to the priority issues facing Japan
  • Enhancing basic research and human resource development
  • Development of policy created together with society

Individual policies are categorized under each of these major principles. Policies listed under "Realization of sustainable growth and societal development into the future," for example, include: 1) Reconstruction and revival from the Great East Japan Earthquake; 2) Promoting green innovation; 3) Promoting life innovation; and 4) System reforms directed at promoting science, technology, and innovation. Also, within each principle, there is a description of important fields of technical development. This concerns system maintenance, such as the necessity for establishing a social foundation. When the Fifth Plan is established, it will take account of the progress of the Fourth Plan.

Conclusion

When the earlier Science and Technology Basic Plans were established, a draft was presented and public comments were accepted on a website. This process provides an opportunity for the people to understand that they are active participants in promoting science and technology. This in turn encourages people to take an interest in science and technology. Another interesting aspect of the period covered by the new Science and Technology Basic Plan is that it includes 2020, when the Summer Olympics and Paralympics will take place in Tokyo. Therefore, policy issues relating to such fields as sports science and the urban environment may be viewed as especially important. If you become interested in this process after reading this column, I recommend looking at the Fourth Science and Technology Basic Plan as it is rather concise (Note).

Major sports events such as the soccer World Cup and Olympics are a good opportunity to consider the role and significance of sports. I think that 2015, as the Science and Technology Basic Plan is becoming established, will likewise be a valuable chance for each individual to ponder the promotion of science and technology from all sorts of perspectives, not just those of government agencies and industry. No matter who you are--a citizen benefiting from science and technology, a researcher conducting actual R&D in the academic world, or a member of industry turning outcomes of science and technology R&D into products and services--this is an excellent opportunity to think actively about the future of science and technology. Finally, I hope that the Fifth Plan will be the one which can deal with the policy issues facing Japan, be understood by every individual, and receive much support from researchers.

December 26, 2014
Footnote(s)
  • ^ The Fourth Science and Technology Basic Plan http://www8.cao.go.jp/cstp/kihonkeikaku/4honbun.pdf (in Japanese)
    (Accessed: December 2014)

January 9, 2015

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