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Scientific Research: Opening the Door to the Future
Chapter 1 Conceptual Foundations for Promoting Scientific Research
Section 1: The Significance and Role of Scientific Research
1. The Basic Nature of Scientific Research

Scientific research is a universal, creative intellectual activity deriving from the fundamental human desire to seek knowledge and truth. Scientific research aims to discover new laws and principles, establish analytical and synthetic methodologies, systematize new knowledge and technology, and pioneer advanced fields of learning. It spans all disciplines from the humanities and social sciences to the natural sciences, depends on researchers' ability to develop their ideas freely and pursue research activities autonomously, and is carried out mainly in universities and their affiliated research institutions. The fruits of scientific research have inherent cultural value as intellectual assets and public commodities shared by all humanity. Transformed into applications and technology that support and enrich our lives, they also provide a basis for advancing humanity and society.

In view of these characteristics, scientific research should basically be supported by the government. This is reflected in a report produced by the Group on the Science System, an arm of the Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy established by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which identifies scientific research, which in most countries has been traditionally carried out in universities, as a public commodity that is supported by public funding ( Chapter 4, Section 3.1(1) ). "Realizing Our Potential," the science and technology white paper presented to the British parliament in 1993, reasons that the government should encourage scientific research because the fruits of such research belong to the society and the national economy as a whole, and not solely to those who conduct or fund it. In economics, a "public commodity" is defined as an item for which supply would not meet society's demand if left solely to market transactions (a "market failure" situation), but which could be supplied in sufficient quantities if governments provide appropriate fiscal support.

The Role of University-Based Scientific Research in Socioeconomic Development

Analysis of economic growth according to the endogenous growth theory shows that a portion of growth cannot be explained solely by increases in the quantity of labor and capital. That portion is referred to as "total factor productivity" (TFP). It has been measured by governments and researchers in many countries, including the authors of Japan's Economic White Paper (an annual report on the state of the Japanese economy), and its strategic importance to socioeconomic development is widely recognized.

This perspective was reflected in the 1962 Education White Paper, which focused on "Japan's Growth And Education." A pioneering attempt to demonstrate, through measurement and other means, that education makes a major contribution to Japan's economic growth, this white paper concluded that "it is necessary to consider the role to be played by education on a broader basis: Education should not only aim to contribute to the economic growth of society, but also aim at the development of individual citizens who will find their proper place in the rich future society." The white paper also offered the following analysis of the role of universities and university-based scientific research.

Economic growth today is driven by technological innovation. Rapid production increases result not so much from increases in infrastructure and in the workforce as from dramatic improvements in the level of science and technology and from the widespread application of new advances. The keys to this growth are scientific creativity, technical skills, the quality of the labor force, and people's ability to make full use of resources, all of which depend heavily on the spread and advancement of education.
Modern industry's production capacity cannot continue to grow without people who are able to build highly productive facilities and equipment, people who can operate them, and people with the organizational and managerial skills to effectively link infrastructure with labor resources. We must therefore actively seek to advance people's skills in all of these areas. Education must play the leading role in this endeavor.
Technological innovation derives from advanced scientific research, which means that basic research, as well as development and applied research, will become increasingly important, creating a fundamental need to train highly capable researchers. Moreover, improvements in production technology demand training of large numbers of skilled technicians and workers. Expanding science and engineering programs and improving research setups in institutions of higher education are, therefore, central priorities. Obviously, this does not mean merely the acquisition of specialized knowledge and technology in the narrow sense, but implies the training of scientists and technicians who also have acquired the broad range of basic academic skills and general education needed in an evolving industrial society.

Universities and scientific research thus play a crucial role in socioeconomic development. Japan's "catch-up" development strategy is now a thing of the past. To provide the driving force for our country's future development in an environment defined not only by limited resources and energy but also by a falling birth rate and a rapidly aging population, universities must undertake basic and original research, which the private sector cannot handle adequately, and make better use of the results in education and human resource development.

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