On June 11, the Integrated Innovation Strategy Council compiled the Integrated Innovation Strategy 2021, which outlines key measures for the coming year. Steady progress will be made with regard to the Sixth Basic Plan for Science, Technology, and Innovation, including digitization, carbon neutrality, promoting important technologies, supporting startups, supporting doctoral students, and university funds. Support packages will also be created for regional universities within the fiscal year. The artificial intelligence (AI), biotechnology, and quantum strategies will also be reviewed.
A decision is soon to be made by the Cabinet, which will be reflected in the next fiscal year’s budget and institutional reforms. Although the Sixth Basic Plan was adopted in March of this year, the international situation is changing much more drastically than was assumed at that time. The US Biden administration has announced that it will increase science and technology-related investments in the quantum sector and other areas from 0.7% to about 2% of GDP, and China has announced that it will increase R&D expenditures by more than 7% annually. In addition, there is an urgent need to deal with economic security, such as securing supply chains for emerging technologies and semiconductors. Bolstering this, the US has returned to the Paris Agreement, and Europe is aiming for economic recovery through green investment in the post-COVID period.
In response to these changes, the Integrated Strategy includes elements that were not part of the Basic Plan, such as promoting optimal placement of next-generation data centers and bases for developing and manufacturing advanced semiconductor technologies, promoting universities as regional cores, and reviewing AI strategy. Regarding the new Small Business Innovation Research system (SME technological innovation system) that will begin this fiscal year, an investment target of 53.7 billion yen was set for initiatives such as R&D-oriented startups, and rules for discretionary contracts for public procurement under this system were formulated.
While research universities are supported through various forms of deregulation and a 10-trillion-yen university fund, how can universities with distinctive characteristics be promoted as regional cores? There are universities that have actively made positive contributions toward resolving challenges faced by human society, such as in the fields of healthcare and energy, and achieved outcomes that receive global attention by maximizing their strengths. Examples include Hirosaki University’s use of multi-item health-related big data; Ehime University’s creation of large-scale aquaculture industry; Kyushu University’s state-of-the-art hydrogen development base; Okayama University’s social applications for AI and data science; Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine’s fusion and collaboration in the fields of agriculture, commerce, and industry; and Kinki University’s research on next-generation food-production models.
In contrast to this, many universities have not been able to fully utilize their characteristics and strengths and realize their potential. To assist with this, the Cabinet Office and MEXT will formulate a policy package within the fiscal year to support universities that have a vision based on regional expectations and their own strengths, regardless of whether they are national, public, or private universities. Specifically, the plan envisages the development and securing of human resources for university administration, including management and URA (University Research Administrators), the establishment of a national government system of support to accompany strategic management, the bundling and packaging of individual projects supporting university reform, and support for inter-university collaboration.
Under the new SBIR system, part of the subsidies for R&D and such will be disbursed to startups, SMEs, and researchers seeking to commercialize R&D results, branding these as specific new technology subsidies (the government has set an overall goal of approximately 53.7 billion yen). In order to promote predictability, convenience, and simplification of procedures for open recruitment, support will be provided by establishing a special SBIR website (comprehensive point of contact). Some of the specific new technology subsidies are designated subsidies that are managed by different ministries and agencies under unified rules, allowing discretionary contracts in public procurement and matching main contractors. For example, a workflow is created where MLIT (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Tourism) procurement technology is set as an R&D goal for JST, and once the technology development is completed, MLIT is able to adopt the technology in a demonstration project, followed by public procurement. Moreover, when a special technology developed by a startup is procured, it will automatically become possible to conclude a discretionary contract if no other proposals are submitted after ten days of public notification.
Of the 171 initiatives in the 2019 AI strategy that were set to start in FY2020, 90% (154) are progressing as planned, but their effects have not yet been felt. In addition to continuing these efforts to date, the government will formulate a new AI strategy by the end of this year, focusing on the promotion of social applications of AI, taking into account changes in social and economic systems and the acceleration of AI-related developments in other countries.
With regard to biotechnology strategy, follow-up will be carried out to realize a bioeconomy that contributes to sustainable economic growth and solving social issues, amid intensifying competition in vaccine and remedy development for COVID-19 and accelerated responses to climate change issues aimed at realizing carbon neutrality. The biotechnology strategy was partially revised regarding regional bio-community formation, R&D, and other matters.
Regarding items mentioned in the Basic Plan, there are specific descriptions, analyses of implementation status and current situation, and future policy for each of the sub-items. For example, transformation into a sustainable and resilient society that ensures the safety and security of its people, strengthening of research capabilities that pioneer frontiers of knowledge and serve as a source of value creation, and education and human resource development that realizes diverse forms of happiness for individuals and addresses challenges, promotion of sectoral strategies through public–private partnerships, vitalization of capital turnover, and enhancement of control tower functions. Efforts are being made to get a firm grasp on the status of responsible ministries and progress on the Basic Plan.
This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd.(https://sci-news.co.jp/). Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.