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  • Writer's pictureHirokazu Kobayashi

Japan's research ability: Is it bad to be ranked 13th?

Updated: May 20

Hirokazu Kobayashi

CEO, Green Insight Japan, Inc.

Professor Emeritus and Visiting Professor, University of Shizuoka


"Is it bad to be ranked 13th?" I'm not saying it is terrible, but why is it not aligned with Japan's economic strength? The decline in Japan's research capabilities has been pointed out in many places. Still, the proposals I have seen on how to save this situation seem lacking in persuasive power. It is not easy to evaluate research ability, and some examples, such as Vincent Willem van Gogh's paintings, were not assessed during his lifetime but whose value was recognized after his death. Although there are some problems, the ”top 10% of most cited papers'' is often used among the several research performance indicators. This indicates how many that paper has been cited and shows the number of citations in the top 10%. In addition, there is a correction to arrange the results by research field. From 1998 to 2000, Japan ranked 4th in the world in the number of top 10% of most cited papers, and although it was far behind the United States in first place, it was close behind Britain in second place and Germany in third place. However, in the 2023 announcement, Japan's “top 10% of most cited papers” fell to 13th place. Research requires research funds. A country's economic strength is expressed by its gross domestic product (GDP). So, if you look at what happened to GDP during this period, until 2009, it was the second largest in the world after the United States. It was overtaken by China in 2010 and then by Germany in 2023 but still ranks fourth globally. The decline in 2023 is likely primarily due to the weaker yen.

If so, there may be other causes. Since 2004, national and public universities have become independent administrative universities, and many public universities have followed suit. The purpose of becoming a national university corporation was to enable each university to put more effort into providing excellent education and unique research and to become a more distinctive and attractive university. At the time, Junichiro Koizumi was the Prime Minister. To deal with the burgeoning national debt deficit, the government cut the number of national civil servants by approximately 150,000 by separating national universities from 800,000 national civil servants. As a result, faculty members at national and public universities are working hard to create goals for social visibility and evaluate their achievement, offer public lectures as part of social contribution, and obtain research funds due to the shift from operating expense grants to competitive allocation. Research time was reduced due to additional work. Here's the problem.

Therefore, (1) it is desirable to increase the number of URAs who are university research administrators and improve their treatment to reduce researchers' labor in contributing to society and acquiring research funds, as well as promote intellectual property management and commercialization. (2) Since it will take time for each university to prepare enough funds to generate substantial investment income, in addition to utilizing the 10 trillion yen fund, assistance from the national and local governments is essential. (3) Japan's economy is the only one among significant countries that has not seen growth for 20 years. To make universities financially independent, the social implementation of university seeds should be reflected in university management. (4) Rather than having universities compete in various projects, should the national and local governments take the lead in creating and implementing plans to consolidate and abolish universities in response to the declining birthrate?

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