Science Council of Japan: Reform Academic Advisory Entity so It Better Contributes to Society

The public will not understand if an academic entity insists that the government should not meddle in its personnel affairs and management even while it relies on the government for funding. The ideal form of the Science Council of Japan (SCJ) needs to be thoroughly discussed to bring about its reform.

The government has established a panel of 12 experts, including academics and businesspeople, to review the organizational structure of the SCJ. At its first meeting, the panel confirmed that it would consider the role of the SCJ and study a suitable management structure.

The number of issues requiring scientific knowledge is increasing, such as responses to generative artificial intelligence and measures to fight climate change.

It is necessary to review what the SCJ should be like so the academic entity can fulfill its original responsibility of contributing to society by proposing timely policies.

Regarding reform of the SCJ, the government attempted to submit a bill to revise the Law on the Science Council of Japan during the latest ordinary Diet session, but the bill was put on hold due to strong opposition from the SCJ side.

The revision bill would have involved a third-party committee in the selection of SCJ members. It aimed to increase transparency in the selection process by changing the present system of selecting members based on the convenience of incumbent SCJ members, and also to encourage the appointment of diverse human resources.

In the revision bill, in consideration of the SCJ, the selection of the third-party committee members is entrusted to the SCJ president. But even so, a torrent of objections were raised by the SCJ that its independence would be undermined.

The government invests nearly ¥1 billion of national funds each fiscal year in the operation of the SCJ. The 210 SCJ members are national civil servants in special service positions.

As long as the SCJ continues to be a national organization and its members are also national civil servants, it is quite natural that the government should be involved in the selection of its members. If the SCJ rejects the involvement of the government, it would make sense for it to shift to being a private corporation that would raise its own funds and manage itself.

The SCJ presented its own reform proposal in 2021. It proposed maintaining its status as a representative body of the government, and an option to become a special corporation on the condition that it would still receive financial support from the government.

It can be seen that the SCJ’s underlying desire is to change only its outer form while maintaining the status quo in terms of its legal status and government funding.

The panel said that it intends to continue its discussions using the forms of major overseas academic organizations as a reference.

For example, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and Britain’s Royal Society are both nongovernmental organizations. They are publicly funded, but they also collect their own donations. Although the culture of donation is not deeply rooted in Japan, such efforts are still necessary.

There is no set date for the panel to reach a conclusion, but there is no use letting discussions ramble on indefinitely. A certain direction should be presented by the end of this year.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 1, 2023)