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"Thoughts on "The 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan"" / 『科学技術基本計画と「わたし」』

posted Mar 13, 2016, 9:23 PM by 田中千秋   [ updated Mar 13, 2016, 9:39 PM ]

 April 2016 marks the beginning of the fifth installment of the Science and Technology Basic Plan — a government-established, systematic and coherent basic plan for executing long-term science and technology policy that was developed in the Science and Technology Basic Act in 1995. I am embarrassed to say that I did not know of the plan until I heard it in a seminar about a month ago, but the new plan—which is based on the results and challenges of the 20-year period for Plans 1 through 4 and reflects the current global, social, and economic situation— will unquestionably impact the entire breadth of science and technology, both in academia and industry.

The Basic Plan states Japan’s Vision for the future to become a country that: shows sustainable growth, both as a nation and in local communities ; provides a safe, affluent and high quality of life for citizens; can contribute to solving global problems and promoting global development; and consistently creates innovation. To achieve the vision, the plan promotes: value creation initiatives for future industry creation and social transformation; responses to economic and social problems; investment in basic research ; and development of human resources, intellectual property, and a desirable funding cycle. Universities are called to play a crucial role in increasing the level of basic research, with challenging targets being established, including a 10% share in the top 10% of most cited papers, a 50% increase in joint research funds from companies, and a 50% increase in the number of licensed patents, while achieving growth in the number of young faculty, growth in the number of female faculty, and growth in the total volume of published papers.

Although I always nod with appreciation at such talk, in the back of my mind I also wonder, “Specifically, what do we have to do?” Having heard the Basic Plan, do I, for example, need to change my approach in the research lab or the way I interact with students? It is not like I am procrastinating at the moment (at least I believe so), but in the case I need to change something, then what and how? I do not think this is a problem related to just science and technology-related policies, but because most national policies are formulated with a long-term perspective, the plans are just overly grand and do not seem at all related to myself. I wish that the plan was detailed enough to include specific suggestions targeted at people working at the field level (e.g., young university faculty), so that the people affected by the policy can better see the problem as their own.

There is no way for me to know what the people who developed the Basic Plan were ultimately expecting, but if there was something I could do toward achieving the goals set in the Basic Plan, it would be to make a small change to my research mindset. Regarding this, there is one phrase from a seminar I attended in 2014 that left a strong impression: “Do what is important, not what is interesting.” Stated by a science and technology investor, the words resonated in a very refreshing way. Researchers frequently pursue research that piques their interest, and this attitude is accepted without question, especially at universities. However, the above phrase is telling us that if we desire to truly contribute to society, we need to take on critical problems faced by the world and not problems that only we find interesting. Although it is easy to forget in the face of intense research competition, the fundamental purpose of engineering studies, after all, is to resolve problems facing society. It is always important to come back to the simple perspective of “doing research that benefits people”.

I must admit though, that my current research mindset is not exactly aligned with the words above. This comes from my conviction that a problem is important because it is difficult to solve. Usually, it takes more than a good idea – a breakthrough – to solve it. And where do breakthroughs come from? From interesting basic research. So, I think the most desirable approach is to engage in both kinds of research activities, with a slightly higher priority in solving the important problems: i.e., “do what is important, and what is interesting”. I think universities are a great workplace in that the faculty can direct his/her research at his/her own discretion (in most cases). With an organization like PARC, researchers in academia can exchange information and ideas with researchers in industry on important problems and cutting-edge technologies. For a researcher, what more could you ask for, if research, driven by your own intellectual interest, could solve one of world’s most important problems?  

March 14th, 2016
Hiroyuki Yoshida
Assisstant Professor
Division of Electrical, Electronic and Information Engineering,
Graduate School of Engineering,
Osaka University


基本計画を全て理解したわけではありませんが、計画では「目指すべき国の姿」として「持続的な成長と地域社会の自律的な発展」、「国及び国民の安全・安心の確保と豊かで質の高い生活の実現 」、「地球規模課題への対応と世界の発展への貢献 」と「知の資産の持続的創出 」を掲げ、その実現のために「未来の産業創造と社会変革に向けた新たな価値創出の取組 」、「経済・社会的課題への対応 」、「基盤的な力の強化」、そして「人材、知、資金の好循環システムの構築」を推進することを述べています。大学が特に関係するのは「基盤的な力の強化」で、若手教員、女性教員の拡充の他、総論文数を増やしつつ、総論文数に占める被引用回数トップ10%の論文の割合が10%となることを目指す、企業からの共同研究受入額の50%増加を目指す、特許実施許諾件数の50%増加を目指すなど、挑戦的な目標設定がなされています。


基本計画を策定した方が何を想定されているかは結局、分からないのですが、科学技術基本計画の実現に向けて自分が何かできるとすれば、研究に対するマインドセットを少し変えることかな、と考えています。これについては2014年に受講した研修で聞いた、次の言葉が強く印象に残っています。"Do what is important, not what is interesting"-この言葉は科学技術に投資する立場の方から聞いたのですが、自分には極めて新鮮にヒットしました。研究者は自分の興味に突き動かされて研究を進める場合が多いと思いますし、特に大学においてはそれが正しい姿のように思えます。ただ、世の中に本当に貢献したいのであれば、自分が興味のある問題にでなく、世の中が抱える重要な問題に挑みなさい、と上の言葉は言っています。近年の加熱する研究競争で忘れがちではありますが、工学が本来、社会が抱える問題を解決することを目的とした学問であることを考えると、人の役に立つことを研究する、というシンプルな視点は非常に重要だな、と思います。

と、このようなことを書きながら、今の私の研究に対するマインドセットは実は、上の言葉そのままではありません。問題がImportantなのはそれが難しいからであり、その解決には今まで人が思いつかなかったアイディアが必要となると思うからです。解決する糸口がどこにあるかというと、それはInterestingな基礎科学の先にあると私は思います。ですので、両者の優先順位はそのままで、両方に取り組むのが一番望ましいと考えています。つまり、"Do what is important, and what is interesting"。大学は非常に良い場所で、(いつもではありませんが)教員の裁量で、両方に取り組めます。研究者としては、自分の興味ある研究も思いっきり楽しみながら、それが重要な問題の解決策となれば冥利につきると思います。このような環境や、共に研究を進めてくれる学生の皆さんに感謝しつつ、これからの科学技術の発展のために頑張りたいと思います。

吉田 浩之 助教