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Education ministry plans to support young researchers to boost int'l excellence

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has decided to launch programs to support young, promising researchers so that they can be internationally competitive, according to people familiar with the decision.

The ministry intends to request about 1.1 billion yen for the 2019 fiscal year to create programs that will help young academics build connections with international researchers during their study overseas or offer training sessions on how to write theses in ways that are more appealing to international audiences.

The initiatives are designed to curb the decline of the Japanese academic community's international influence. The number of studies by Japanese researchers with worldwide impact or research initiatives born out of international collaboration is decreasing. This is due in part to the shrinking population of young Japanese researchers, including those studying overseas, along with unstable career prospects even for doctorate holders.

The education ministry plans to offer an international study program through the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for 90 people as an expansion of an existing grant-in-aid scheme. The duration for the support will be extended from the current three years to five, and up to 5.35 million yen per person per year will be provided in allowances in addition to research funds. The recipient must spend at least three years out of the five years abroad, with travel expenses covered by the government.

While overseas, in addition to undertaking research, participants will be introduced to top-level researchers or editors of scientific journals through the cooperation of first-class Japanese researchers. The students would then be expected to utilize those connections for their work at Japanese universities and research institutions after their return to Japan.

The program for training sessions for young researchers in Japan will be offered at four organizations, including universities with the capacity to instruct researchers from different disciplines. Participants will learn how to write academic papers that appeal to readers overseas, and effective ways to win state or corporate grants. By inviting foreign researchers or academics with overseas experience to participate in those sessions, the ministry intends to create a competitive environment in which participants learn from each other to improve themselves. These opportunities are hoped to strengthen interdisciplinary studies, an area where Japan is said to be lagging.

Traditionally, such guidance was given within the framework of laboratories at universities. The new program is based on training programs initiated by national universities in the western Japanese region of Kansai, including Kyoto University. A total of about 1.2 billion yen will be given to each organization over a 10-year period.

(Japanese original by Yui Shuzo, Science & Environment News Department)

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