People with Doctoral Degrees: Make Society Capable of Widely Utilizing Their Talents

People with doctoral degrees are indispensable personnel for the development of science, technology and industry. It is important to expand the range of opportunities for them to make use of their specialized knowledge.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has compiled a utilization plan to increase the number of people with doctorates to strengthen industrial competitiveness. The goal is said to be to increase the number of people who have doctoral degrees per million people to 370 by 2040, three times the current number.

In recent years, there have been remarkable technological advances in such fields as artificial intelligence and life sciences. Competition to secure people with doctoral degrees with advanced knowledge and skills is intensifying worldwide, and the number of people with doctoral degrees is increasing overseas.

In Japan, however, the number continues to decline. The number of students continuing on to doctoral programs has also decreased by 20% compared to its peak in fiscal 2003.

Many students are said to have voiced such opinions as “Continuing on to a doctoral program is not rewarded financially” and “I’m worried about finding a job after I get my doctorate.” Unless such concerns are eliminated, it will not be easy to achieve the numerical targets set by the education ministry.

In 1996, the ministry also launched a plan to nurture 10,000 postdoctoral researchers, known as postdocs. However, the plan only produced researchers who earned a low income despite their high education due to a lack of workplaces that would accept them.

In Japan, the stereotype that “those with doctoral degrees are supposed to pursue academic research” might be too strong.

In many cases, new graduates with doctorates do not receive special treatment as professionals because new graduates are typically hired at the same time. Some companies are reluctant to hire people with doctoral degrees as they view such people as “hard-headed and inflexible.”

Overseas, graduates with doctoral degrees have a variety of career paths open to them, including at large corporations, government agencies, startups, international organizations and teaching jobs. It is important to properly evaluate and utilize people with doctorates who are equipped with critical thinking and analytical skills and who can solve societal issues.

An organization mainly consisting of researchers from prominent universities said, “It is necessary to nurture personnel with a broad perspective who can serve as team leaders, rather than providing specialized technical education in an isolated manner.”

Graduate schools also need to break away from old-fashioned education and strive to develop people who can respond to the needs of society. Another issue is how to increase the number of women with doctoral degrees. The number of women is particularly low in the science field. Measures to address this issue are urgently needed.

It is important to change the mindset of society to treat talented people with doctoral degrees appropriately. The education ministry should also work on such measures as strengthening cooperation with industries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 25, 2024)