The Japanese Ministry of Education has recently unveiled a groundbreaking initiative aimed at enhancing science education in universities and technical colleges across the country. With a focus on green and digital technologies, this program aims to elevate Japan’s standing in the global science and technology research landscape. As part of this ambitious endeavor, 111 universities and technical colleges will receive generous grants from a ¥300 billion ($2.1 billion) fund established by the government. This financial support aims to foster the growth of science-related departments and nurture high-level talent, enabling Japan to lead in fast-changing industries.
Bolstering Japan’s International Scientific Reputation
Japan has long been regarded as a leader in scientific research and technology. However, recent reports have shown a decline in the country’s international scientific reputation. According to a study conducted by a ministry-affiliated think tank, Japan dropped to the 12th position worldwide for the number of highly-cited scientific papers in the three years leading up to 2020, a significant fall from its previous standing at fourth place in the early 2000s.
To address this challenge, the Japanese government is taking proactive steps to rejuvenate its scientific prowess and elevate its position in the global scientific community.
Raising the Bar in STEM Education
A key focus of the initiative is to encourage more students to pursue degrees in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In Japan, only 35% of students graduate with STEM degrees, whereas countries like the United States, South Korea, Germany, and Britain boast higher percentages of 38%, 42%, 42%, and 45%, respectively. To stay competitive, Japan aims to increase its ratio of science majors by emulating the success of these leading nations.
The Ministry’s Two-Pronged Approach
The Ministry of Education’s program takes a two-pronged approach to enhance science education:
1. Empowering Universities to Build New Departments and Strengthen Existing Ones
Public and private universities looking to build new departments or implement structural changes in existing ones to enhance education in digital and green technologies are eligible for support. This strategic move will not only help establish cutting-edge science departments but also encourage universities primarily focused on humanities education to venture into STEM fields.
Around 30% of the chosen 67 schools for this category fall under the humanities category but have ambitious plans to establish STEM departments for the first time. Each institution in this category will receive funding of up to ¥2 billion to facilitate this transition.
2. Nurturing High-Level Talent in Established Science Departments
The second prong of the initiative targets institutions that already have well-established departments in digital and green technologies. These institutions seek to nurture high-level talent in these specialized areas. The ministry will accept applications for this category until the end of fiscal 2025, which concludes in March 2026.
Select Universities on the Path of Advancement
Among the selected universities and colleges, some notable names include:
- Fukui Prefectural University: The institution aims to establish a pioneering department of dinosaur paleontology by 2025, making it the first of its kind in Japan.
- Sanyo-Onoda City University: Specializing in STEM subjects, this university plans to increase its proportion of female students by expanding female dorms and other facilities.
As part of its commitment to promoting STEM education, the ministry plans to broaden scholarship programs starting from April next year. Students from middle-income households seeking to major in STEM subjects will be eligible for financial assistance under these scholarships.
The Path to World-Class Research Institutions
In its efforts to elevate Japanese research institutions to the level of the world’s best, the education ministry has shortlisted three national universities for a different program. These universities are in the running to receive grants from a massive ¥10 trillion fund, which will be financed by the profits generated through this initiative. The selected universities will be announced in the coming fall, marking a significant milestone in Japan’s journey towards scientific excellence.
Education Minister Keiko Nagaoka expressed her enthusiasm for the initiative, encouraging institutions to actively participate in the program and contribute to the advancement of science education and research in Japan. With such resolute determination, Japan is set to regain its position as a trailblazer in the global scientific landscape and drive innovations in green and digital technologies for a brighter future.