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Strong investment in science education and research is fundamental to Japan’s future, along with government policy that nurtures emerging industries able to provide new services and employment opportunities.

The Government Revitalization Unit’s scrutiny of fiscal 2010 budget requests, conducted last fall, reduced waste in science-related spending, but in some cases went too far. GRU members showed a lack of understanding of science research — such as how difficult it is to recover lost ground once research programs stop. The fiscal 2010 budget has rectified some of the mistakes committed in the scrutiny.

The Council for Science and Technology Policy, headed by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, has decided to offer ¥100 billion over five years to 30 cutting-edge research projects, in fields including possible therapeutic applications of iPS cells (induced pluripotent stem cells) and development of an advanced cancer-treatment apparatus. It also has decided to give ¥50 billion to young or female researchers engaged in environment- or health promotion-related research.

But fiscal 2010 budget spending on the Global Center of Excellence (COE) program — aimed at supporting young researchers at selected graduate schools engaged in cutting-edge research — has been cut by more than 20 percent. This contradicts the Hatoyama administration’s long-term goal of full employment for researchers with doctorates by 2020.

For fiscal 2007, the first year of the COE program, 63 graduate schools were selected. For fiscal 2008, a further 68 were added. But for fiscal 2009, only nine schools were added.

The program provides not only research funds but also a livelihood for graduate students and postdoctorate researchers, who are the driving force in research activities at these schools and are bound to play central roles in important future research.

Investing in these people’s work is investing in Japan’s future. The Hatoyama administration should work out strong, long-term measures to support young researchers and attract more students to schools of science.

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