The Japanese government's series of sangaku renkei (university-industry collaboration) reforms, begun in the mid 1990s, sought to increase the contribution to national economic growth from Japan's universities. The reforms called for increased research subsidies, relaxing of restrictions on professors' non-academic pursuits, and changing national universities to independent public corporations, which gave faculty more freedom to work closely with industry. According to the most recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), collaborative research between national university corporations and companies for FY2004 totaled 9,378 cases, a 17% increase over the previous fiscal year.
RIETI Faculty Fellow Akira GOTO has been researching the effects of the university-industry collaboration reforms. RIETI Report sat down with him to discuss his findings and the role of government in the fostering of innovation.
Dr. Goto is a Professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology of the University of Tokyo, where he has taught since 2001. He has also been a Faculty Fellow at RIETI since 2004. His expertise covers economics of innovation and economics of competition policy, including national innovation systems, intellectual property rights, and university-industry collaboration. Prior to joining the University of Tokyo, Dr. Goto taught at Hitotsubashi University (1989-2001) and Seikei University (1973-'89). In addition, he held visiting positions at Yale University, Oxford University, Australian National University, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He earned a B.A. and Ph.D. in Economics from Hitotsubashi University. Dr. Goto has served on numerous boards and committees such as the Industrial Structure Council of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Anti-Monopoly Council at the Fair Trade Commission of Japan. He has been a Chief Editor of the International Journal of Intellectual Property since 2003. His major works include, "R&D Capital, Rate of Return on R&D Investment and Spillover of R&D in Japanese Manufacturing Industries," (with K. Suzuki), Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 71, No. 4, November 1989; Competition Policy in a Global Economy, (ed. with W. Comanor and L. Waverman), Routledge, 1996; Innovation in Japan, (ed. with H. Odagiri), Oxford University Press, 1997; "Japan's National Innovation System: Current Status and Problems," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Summer 2000, Vol. 16, No. 2; and "The Role of Corporate Scientists in Innovation," (with R. Furukawa), Research Policy, Vol. 35, 2005.
For a detailed biography,
RIETI: You have recently performed research concerning the effect on universities of policies for fostering university-industry collaboration. What are major findings?
Goto: I conducted this empirical research on university-industry collaboration together with my colleague, Professor Yasunori Baba (Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo). First, we surveyed researchers in engineering and biomedical faculties at the University of Tokyo, then expanded the survey to universities nationwide. In addition to questionnaires and bibliometric research focused on researchers' academic papers and patents, we did a number of case studies, such as one concerning photocatalyst development and industrialization by Professor Kazuhito Hashimoto (Director of the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo). The system of universities has changed a great deal since the latter half of the 1990s. The culmination of the reforms came in April 2004 when national universities were transformed into independent administrative institutions. I have been investigating whether and how these major changes had an impact on university research and university-industry collaboration.
These surveys clarified many issues. One of the most interesting is the finding that cooperative relationships between university professors and small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) have improved. In the past, universities, especially researchers in engineering, engaged in close interchange with industry, but the focus was on large corporations. The reason for this was that large corporations had comparatively large research and development budgets, and there were many graduates of the University of Tokyo in the research institutes of these corporations. However, as a result of introducing a series of new schemes for university-industry collaboration, joint research with SMEs has increased. Previously, it had been pointed out that SMEs had difficulty approaching university professors. Therefore, this development should be considered a positive development. This trend is also being helped along by the fact that university researchers involved in industrial technological development conduct very advanced research, and because the markets for such technology are extremely small, the risk of seeking commercial application is large. In this way, technologies developed by universities are intrinsically suited to SMEs. A typical example is venture businesses. Through the introduction of these new schemes, the collaboration between SMEs and universities where research has inherently been matched to SMEs has deepened.
What is worrisome about this trend, however, is that as collaboration between universities and industry advances, instances seem to have increased wherein researchers have to delay publication of their research findings due to concerns about commercialization (e.g. to allow commercial entities to spend time filing proper protection on research-generated technology). This might compromise the principle of open science, and delay the development of science, on which development of technology depends in many ways. Another problem that may arise is that the research topics of universities might focus too much on technologies with possible commercial applications. This may have detrimental effect on research and education. These reforms are still in an early stage, and I do not believe that at this time any negative effects have emerged. But in the long term, research and education are the bases of industrial technology. This is potentially a major problem, and we must keep an eye on this issue carefully from now.
RIETI: In view of the financial statements of national university corporations in fiscal 2004, the University of Tokyo occupies the top position in terms of both net profits and external funds (revenues from commissioned research and joint research, and endowments). It also increased its revenues in fiscal 2005, with particularly high growth in external funds, which rose by a remarkable 19% compared with the preceding year. This probably proves that collaboration between universities and industry is advancing, but what are the factors in the University of Tokyo's success?
Goto: One factor could be the efforts of the University of Tokyo's Division of University Corporate Relations. However, if universities were able to compete freely in university-industry collaboration, most would agree that the University of Tokyo would win due to the size of its operations, its great number of top researchers, and the concentration of many large corporations in Tokyo. In addition, its graduates have traditionally been successful as engineers and scientists in many industries. This tendency is likely to continue, if you like it or not. However, we should consider whether we should accept this situation as a given. Regional national universities also fulfill an extremely important mission, and if this cannot be maintained, then one of the largest social foundations built by Japan since the Meiji Era will collapse. I think that this is a serious problem, and is therefore something that must be given attention.
RIETI: Sweden established the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (VINNOVA) to promote sustainable growth in 2001 and is working to strengthen cooperation among business, government, and academia. In order to increase university-industry-government collaboration in Japan, what efforts should the government make?
Goto: At the RIETI BBL Seminar held on September 5, Dr. Per Eriksson, the Director General of VINNOVA, stated that Sweden was the first country to establish a government agency for which the name contained the word "innovation." VINNOVA is basically a funding agency for research and development and formulates technology policies. In Japan, the Council for Science and Technology Policy chaired by the prime minister has been established as the headquarters for formulating comprehensive national policies with regard to the promotion of science and technology. Though we may call it a command center, the secretariat has appointed approximately 100 representatives from industry, government, and academia, and this represents a shortage of staff. A staff of this size certainly cannot be termed adequate considering the importance of science and technology for Japan. I believe that the staff should be substantially increased so that effective policy measures can be developed, including efforts to take into account the relationship between innovation and science and technology.
I think the role played by Dr. John Marburger, Science Adviser to the (U.S.) President, could have useful implications for Japan. Dr. Marburger analyzes the impacts on society of science and technology policy and the relationship of investment in science and technology to economic growth, environmental protection, and national security, and based on this analysis, advises the president. In addition, he appeals for further promotion of this type of research at the international level. Japan too should put more effort into scientific research concerning science and technology policy.
RIETI: In your book, Japan's National Innovation System, you make reference to the U.K., which has been praised by the OECD for its "best practice" in human capital development through joint efforts by industry, government, and academia, and you outline a plan to build a foundation of long-term industrial competitiveness with a view to developing human capital in science and technology and encouraging technology transfers from universities to industry via people. The newly inaugurated Abe administration plans to, by June 2007, assemble "Innovation 25;" a long-term strategy guideline that will extend to the year 2025. How would you like to see your research used in the formulation of Japan's long-term strategy?
Goto: By their nature, innovation and technological development require a substantial amount of time. For example, it takes 10 years from the start of development to create a marketable product. Educating and training people takes around 20 years from elementary school to graduate school. For this reason it is an issue that basically must be considered from a long-term perspective. During the 1990s, there was a tendency in industry to demand immediate gains from R&D. Technology policies were also used to combat recession. This is understandable as the economy at that time was in very bad shape for a prolonged period of time. But now the economy has recovered, we should return to the basics; recognition of the importance of pursuing innovation from a long-term perspective. Specifically, human capital development and research are the most significant issues, and attention should be focused there, particularly in science and technology. With respect to collaboration between universities and industry, the debate has until now centered on transferring the technology possessed by universities to industry through the licensing of patents, for example. From now on, however, we must place more attention on creating important knowledge. Technology is produced by scientists and engineers. The essential role of universities consists of both research and education. From a long-term perspective, this is the most important point, and it is where the most emphasis should be placed when considering innovation strategies.
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