KYOTO — Although the government is aware that bio-related businesses are important for revitalizing the economy, this field has yet to develop in Japan at the level seen in other countries.
To improve the situation, a new university specializing in bioscience and biotechnology will open in April in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture.
The Nagahama Institute of Bioscience and Technology will not only train people in advanced knowledge and skills, but also help generate new bio-related businesses, according to Tamotsu Yoshida, chairman of the board of trustees of a foundation preparing to set up the school.
“In the rapidly evolving field of bioscience and biotechnology, Japan is far behind other industrialized nations in terms of having people with expertise who are also able to apply it to business,” Yoshida said. “I hope the new university will help improve the situation.”
Yoshida, 70, also serves as chairman of the board of trustees of Kansai Bunri Gakuen, which runs a cram school and two vocational schools, including Biotechnology College Kyoto.
He long felt the need to create a four-year university specializing in bioscience and technology.
“Biotechnology College Kyoto was set up about 10 years ago and is doing very well, with enrollment always reaching its full quota, and almost 100 percent of graduates finding jobs,” Yoshida said, underscoring the potential of bio-related sciences. “I also felt there were strong needs from businesses for young people with high expertise, as the field is developing very swiftly and is diversified.”
Yoshida’s idea gained support from the Shiga Prefectural Government and the Nagahama Municipal Government, both of which had been seeking ways to revive the local economy. The university will be located on a 4-hectare plot within the 12.5-hectare Bioscience Park, which was developed by the city of Nagahama.
According to a report compiled in November by the national government’s Biotechnology Strategy Council, Japan’s bio-related market was worth 1.3 trillion yen in 2001, compared with 3 trillion yen in the United States and 2 trillion yen in Europe. Meanwhile, the number of Japanese with bachelor’s degrees in biology and pharmacology was less than one-sixth that of Americans holding bachelor’s degrees in biological science.
The council also noted that the total government budget for bio-related fields stood at 44 million yen in fiscal 2002, compared with $27.3 billion (3.3 trillion yen) the U.S. National Institute of Health will allocate for fiscal 2003.
The council called for doubling the budget in five years, as the bio-industry market is expected to grow to 25 trillion yen in 2010 and result in more than 1 million jobs.
According to Yoshida, Japan lags behind other industrialized countries in generating bio-related businesses because of the rampant sectionalism within universities and government ministries, as well as its failure to train business-minded bio-specialists.
“Existing universities are too big to be flexible in meeting the needs of the real business world,” Yoshida said. “It is only in recent years that we have begun to see some venture businesses being launched by university professors.”
To promote interdisciplinary education, as bio-related research crosses over many fields, including science, agriculture, engineering and pharmacology, the university will have only one department of bioscience, covering five fields: genetic science, molecular science, environmental life science, cell life science and life information science. A graduate school will open in three years.
Yoshida said the university will provide education and training with emphasis on research that can be applied in the real business world. The study of “bio-informatics,” which unites information and bioscience technologies, will also be offered.
The university plans to promote cooperation with overseas universities, including Beijing University and Stanford University, according to Yoshida.
“I also hope the university will take the initiative in coordinating among various researchers to generate new businesses,” he said.
But while more than enough applicants are expected to take the upcoming entrance exams for the 200 seats offered, the school’s success largely depends on whether it can generate new businesses through collaboration with companies.
Takara Bio Inc., which helped create the university, is still the only firm that has announced plans to set up a laboratory in the Bioscience Park.
Yoshida’s hope is for the university to focus not just on experts of nurturing businesses, but bioethics as well.
“Science should be used to contribute to human life,” Yoshida said. “We should not repeat the tragedy of atomic bombs. Their creation and use was an example of using cutting-edge science the wrong way.”
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