Survey: Japan universities lax on tracking researcher ties to foreign recruitment schemes

The Japan News
Yomiuri Shimbun building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

Nearly a third of national universities in Japan were in the dark regarding the extent of their researchers’ involvement in China’s “Thousand Talents Plan,” a program to attract talented scientists from overseas, and other foreign-backed projects, according to a survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Many universities cited the lack of government guidelines as a reason why they have been unable to ascertain a clearer picture of their researchers’ ties. Going forward, the government plans to make it mandatory for researchers who receive public subsidies to disclose their participation in such overseas projects, stepping up efforts to throttle the outflow of technology across Japan’s shores.

The Yomiuri Shimbun surveyed 86 national universities in February and March, inquiring as to whether any of the researchers on their rosters participated in talent recruitment programs hosted by overseas entities, among other questions.

Out of the 81 responses received, 47 universities (58% of respondents), said they had kept tabs on researcher participation in such projects.

On the other hand, 25 universities (31% of respondents), answered that they had not. Nearly half of the negative responses came from regional universities — six in the Chubu region and five in Kyushu.

Of the 47 universities that answered in the affirmative, 40, including the University of Tokyo and Hokkaido University, said they were able to monitor their researchers’ ties based on internal faculty regulations regarding travel expenses and side jobs.

Universities have also placed restrictions on the outflow of intellectual capital in response to the 2009 revision of the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law, which strengthened export controls for materials that could be of interest to foreign weapons programs and other matters of national security.

Among the universities surveyed, 22, including Saitama University, Mie University and Kagawa University, said that they were able to monitor their researchers’ foreign involvement based on these export control regulations.

However, there were some differences in how the export regulations were applied across universities.

Kagoshima University said that although it had rules in place regarding exports, monitoring participation in talent recruitment projects was not an objective. Ehime University did not know the extent of researcher involvement for the same reason.

Some universities pointed to a lack of national guidelines on the issue.

Kumamoto University explained, “It is difficult to mandate that researchers report their participation status in these projects without national guidelines in place.”

Okayama University said, “There is no legal basis for requiring reporting.”

In light of this, the government plans to revise its guidelines within the year to require that researchers disclose certain information, such as the receipt of foreign funding and participation in talent recruitment programs.

“Many universities are aware of global trends and have strengthened measures to prevent the outflow of technology, but some universities are still not very conscious of the situation,” said Makoto Asashima, a specially appointed professor at Teikyo University and an expert on university stewardship. “The government needs to formulate effective guidelines, while taking into consideration the administrative burden placed on universities.”