Japan seeks to ‘change attitudes’ on industry-funded courses

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A move by the Japanese government to strengthen collaborations between industry and academia points to growing recognition of the need to address the innovation blind spot in the country, academics said.

Japan will provide up to 30 million yen (£ 195,000), covering up to half the cost of 10 courses developed through collaborations between universities or technical colleges and companies, Nikkei Asia reported.

The money targets an increasingly critical backlog in Japan’s education and research sector, which lags its neighbors in industry-university collaborations despite ambitions to boost research in areas such as batteries and semiconductors.

It also comes amid a recent drop in rankings and research from Japanese institutions, even as other Asian countries swell the charts.

The academics said the initiative spells out the government’s intention to tackle what has become a thorn in the side of Japan’s research agenda.

“The amount of money that the government [provides] is still very small and rather symbolic, but it aims to change the attitudes of industry and universities, ”said Akiyoshi Yonezawa, vice director of the office of international strategy at Tohoku University.

He said that at present it is not uncommon for industry to fund university courses, with such collaborations underway at “most of the major universities” in Japan – but these are still in the pipeline. the minority of institutions.

Takehiko Kariya, professor of sociology of Japanese society at the University of Oxford, said that although the amount of funding involved was small, the initiative represented a “big change” for Japanese higher education.

“This is because in the past industry-university collaborations have developed mainly in the area of ​​research, but not much in education,” he said.

“Some kind of matching funding between government and private business could show both universities and businesses clear incentives to pay more attention to human resource development by creating new courses to accommodate rapid changes. in areas such as decarbonization. “

According to figures from the Japanese National Institute for Science and Technology Policy reported by Nikkei, Chinese companies bear about 27% of the research and development costs of universities. By comparison, South Korean companies fund 14 percent of research, while Japanese companies only cover 3 percent.

The lesser involvement of industry in academic research in Japan has led to a disconnect between the two sectors, said Rochelle Kopp, consultant at Japan Intercultural Consulting.

“Japanese universities are often far removed from the needs of industry and cut off from its resources and ideas. Closing this gap makes a lot of sense, ”she said.

And if Japan’s previous programs are justified, the program could expand, Ms. Kopp said. “Japan often likes to do small pilot programs before launching larger initiatives. It might be one of them.

Prof Yonezawa said the newly formed government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida seemed likely to follow the tone set by Shinzo Abe’s administration, which has promoted “university-industry relations as a central element. [of] innovation”.

But he warned of the cost of not improving links between universities and industry, as Japan already suffers from a lack of adequately trained researchers.

“In a context of fierce global competition, industry and government as well as universities feel a strong sense of crisis. [over the] shortage of highly qualified human resources, especially with doctorates in science and engineering, ”he said.

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