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Research and development in the private sector: report on the survey results of the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP)


A report on the results of a survey on the research activities of private enterprises conducted by the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) reveals that an increasing number of enterprises conduct research and development related to the Sustainable Development Goals. This survey has been conducted yearly since 1968. In the most recent 2021 survey (FY2020 survey), a questionnaire was sent in August to 3,685 enterprises (provisional figures) with a capital of ¥100 million or more and conducting research and development. 1,891 companies were surveyed, and the response rate was 51.3% (both provisional figures). NISTEP has said that the final report will be released in June.

The percentage of companies that conducted research and development related to the SDGs in 2020 was 29.4%, an 8% increase from two years ago, while the percentage of companies that conducted research and development on technology related to global environmental issues increased slightly to 22.9%, indicating that more companies are engaged in such research and development. The percentage of enterprises that conducted society 5.0-related research and development, such as AI and technologies for the integration of cyberspace and physical space, remained unchanged at 27.4%. Meanwhile, only 1.7% of enterprises conducted research and development in areas such as humanities and social sciences.

In 2020, 57.8% of companies hired research and development professionals (new graduates and mid-career professionals), an increase of 1.5 points from the previous year, which is the third largest since 2011. Looking at the percentage of recruitments by educational background and attributes, the percentage of those with a bachelor's degree declined slightly from the previous year, but the percentage of those with a master's degree increased for the first time in three years. In addition, the percentage of enterprises that have hired PhD graduates remained the same as in the previous year, and has been relatively small since 2011. Meanwhile, the recruitment ratio of female researchers increased slightly to 29.3%, the second highest ratio after 2017. Regarding the reasons for not hiring PhD graduates as researchers and developers over the past three years (2018-2020), more than half (52.6%) of the enterprises responded that they have not been able to find a match (e.g., there were no applications or no PhD graduates in the specialized field required). Regarding other reasons, 27.7% of the respondents have specific expertise but cannot be immediately of use to the companies. Overall, however, there were no noteworthy items with a high percentage of responses, as the responses were dispersed. Many enterprises did not cite a reason for not hiring PhD graduates.

In the past three years, as an initiative to improve the abilities of their researchers, 13.7% of the enterprises have supported graduate school study and research by adult graduate students, with 13.5% having supported staff in acquiring a PhD by submitting a dissertation. In addition, 4.2% of the enterprises responded that there is a system for improving in-house compensation by acquiring a graduate degree after a researcher is hired. Meanwhile, 17% of the enterprises send staff to universities and public research institutes for improving their research abilities, which is greater than the support for graduate school study and PhD acquisition. On top of this, 30.5% of enterprises said that their researchers could conduct research freely based on their own ideas, with 41.9% providing financial support for their staff to participate in academic conferences and workshops. These were the top two responses.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting changes in socioeconomic conditions, the percentage of enterprises implementing "a reduction of in-house research and development activities" in 2020 was 35.5%, while the percentage of enterprises implementing "a reduction of collaboration with outside parties for research and development" was 41%. Additionally, 43.8% of the enterprises implemented "a curtailment of research and development expenditures," while 13.8% either did or decided to "curb the number of research and development personnel to be hired."

However, 34.9% of the enterprises did or decided to "launch new research and development projects," which is close to the proportion of enterprises that have reduced their research and development activities. In addition, 20.6% of the enterprises did "launch new collaboration in research and development with external parties."

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd.( Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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