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Tohoku Univ. 1st to be Certified for Massive Govt Research Fund

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tohoku University’s next-generation synchrotron radiation facility NanoTerasu, center, seen here on Thursday in Sendai, is still under construction.

Tohoku University in Sendai has been selected as the first university to be certified as a “university for international research excellence” to receive support from the government’s ¥10 trillion University Fund, which aims to boost selected universities’ research capabilities to the world’s top level, the education ministry announced Friday.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry’s expert panel highly evaluated the effectiveness of Tohoku University’s plan to promote organizational reforms to strengthen its research capabilities and obtain external funding.

The government will provide subsidies to the university for up to 25 years starting in the 2024 academic year from the investment profits of the University Fund.

The amount of subsidies will be determined according to the average amount of funds received from outside the university over the past five years. Tohoku University is expected to receive about ¥10 billion in the 2024 academic year.

The government aims to certify several universities for the funding program, and certified universities are expected to lead Japan’s university reforms by such efforts as developing world-class research environments and recruiting foreign researchers.

The education ministry accepted applications for the program through the end of March, and a total of 10 universities applied. Eight were national universities and two were private universities. The ministry’s panel of 10 experts from Japan and overseas reviewed the applications and effectively selected three universities — the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University and Tohoku University — as candidates in June, followed by on-site examinations of the universities in July.

The key points of the review included ambitious business and financial strategies, such as a business growth rate of around 3% per year, and how the university management system is structured, in addition to research achievements such as the number of research papers that have attracted international attention.

Tohoku University was recognized for its efforts to promote cutting-edge research by operating the next-generation synchrotron radiation facility NanoTerasu, which is being constructed by splitting the approximately ¥38 billion cost between the public and private sectors. Its plans to make Japanese and English its official languages, and to increase the ratio of foreign researchers and students to 30% each were also viewed positively.

However, the education ministry asked the university to reconsider its goal of increasing the amount of research funding it receives from corporations and other sources to more than 10 times its current level, pointing out that the goal would be difficult to achieve in light of its existing growth model.

The ministry will officially certify Tohoku University in the 2024 academic year after the university meets such additional conditions.

The University of Tokyo and Kyoto University, which each outrank Tohoku University in terms of university size and number of research papers, were not selected. “Their sense of scale and speed toward reforms were considered insufficient,” according to the education ministry.

The education ministry plans to accept the second batch of applications in the 2024 academic year.

Regarding Tohoku University’s future efforts, Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Keiko Nagaoka said at Friday’s press conference, “We would like to continue to confirm them through the expert panel.” The minister also recognized the efforts of the nine universities that applied but were not selected by saying, “The proposals were ambitious based on strong wills to change the current situation.”

“We are honored that our university’s proposals have been recognized,” Tohoku University President Hideo Ono said in a statement released Friday.

“We will continue to make every effort to achieve final accreditation, and work together towards the goal of becoming a world-leading research university.”