Priorities for the Japanese Economy in 2016 (January 2016)

Year of Activation of New Science and Technology Innovation Policy: Implementation of the new Science and Technology Basic Plan begins

TAMURA Suguru
Senior Fellow, RIETI

Background of the Fifth Science and Technology Basic Plan

In 2015, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Satoshi Omura of Kitasato University, and the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Takaaki Kajita of the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research of the University of Tokyo. These awards show the high level of research in scientific and technological fields in Japan. A total of eight Japanese scholars and researchers have received Nobel Prizes in the past five years. It probably is not generally realized, but in the past decade, the number of Japanese Nobel Prize recipients in natural sciences fields has been second only to that of the United States. Taking a broad overview, I believe that this increase in the number of Japanese Nobel Prize winners can be considered as an outcome of the science and technology policies that the nation has implemented. Also, this increase will lead to policies that will be supported by the public.

2016 will be the first year of implementation of the Fifth Science and Technology Basic Plan (commencing in April), which succeeds the Fourth Basic Plan. The Fifth Science and Technology Basic Plan has laid out a policy agenda for a five-year period starting from FY 2016. The Science and Technology Basic Plans offer a comprehensive "grand design" detailing agendas related to science and technology for a five-year period, based on the Science and Technology Basic Law. Given that the next plan is the fifth version, the previous four plans have extended across 20 years. They are formulated by a governmental body, the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, which is chaired by the prime minister. The Council acts as a government forum for decisions on important policy, and plays the role of formulating science, technology, and innovation-related policy based on a comprehensive perspective under the leadership of the prime minister. The plan provides the basic framework for this policy. As such, it must possess both a focus on prioritization (the identification of important areas for research and development (R&D)) and a focus on institutional reform (how to provide an environment that enables R&D to be advanced efficiently). Either of these elements working in isolation would be ineffective--they must function together. For this reason, the plans must be formulated in advance and over a specific period.

Content and process of formulation

The following elements were among the proposals for the new plan:
(1) Promotion of technological development with an aim toward verification and exhibition of outcomes at the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo to be held in 2020, the final year of the plan;
(2) Promotion of R&D in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI) technology, etc. linking humanities/social sciences and natural sciences, and understanding of their social effects; and
(3) Advancement of manufacturing technologies and business models responding to the needs of consumers and users of goods and services through the fusion of information and communications technology (ICT) and production technologies.
These are new agendas for the new plan, and can be viewed as important for the future enhancement of Japan's competitiveness.

Because the government and some scholars play the central roles in formulating the plan, most people do not think that they have any opportunity to participate in the process, however, in fact, public comment is invited, and opinions are taken into account in the formulation of the plan. In the case of the new plan, public comment concerning the draft report of the new plan was called for from November 2015, and about 500 opinions were received. As outcomes of science and technology generate innovation when they are accepted and passed on in society, this process is extremely important in terms of ensuring support and acceptance from the public. The public also probably imagines that the support for natural sciences is the exclusive focus of science and technology policy and innovation policy, however, human sciences are also a policy focus. Amid the recent quest for new academic frameworks to replace the conventional division between natural sciences and human sciences, this is an important perspective.

Conclusion

2015 was the final fiscal year of the Fourth Science and Technology Basic Plan. The new Nobel Prizes awarded to Japanese winners are among the outcomes demonstrating the significance of its implementation over the past five years. The Fifth Science and Technology Basic Plan will be implemented for five years from April 2016, with its final fiscal year marking the year in which the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo will be held. This will be an opportunity for the outcomes of the plan to be put into use. My hope is that the implementation of the new plan will generate science, technology, and innovation policy outcomes that stimulate dreams not only for Japanese citizens, but also for people throughout the world.

Note) The writing of this text was based on the draft report concerning the Science and Technology Basic Plan, published in November 2015. The government will decide on the final plan within FY2015.

December 21, 2015

January 7, 2016

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