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Scientific Research: Opening the Door to the Future
Chapter 2 Basic Policies for the Promotion of Science
Section 2: Enhancing Research Organizations' Ability to Promote Scientific Research
1. Formation of Centers of Excellence (COEs)

(1) Background

The formation of COES Was first identified as a goal by the Science Council in its July 1992 report on "Strategies for Comprehensive Promotion of Scientific Research with the Prospect of the Twenty-First Century." This report referred to the great importance to the promotion of highly original, pioneering research of creating centers where the world's top researchers could come together in high-quality research environments to exchange the latest scientific information and share original ideas.

The Science Council continued to deliberate this question, and in July 1995 it produced a set of recommendations for the formation of Centers of Excellence, as summarized below.

(2) Outline of the Science Council Proposal

(a) Definition of COE

: The definition of COE depends on the objectives involved and other factors, making it somewhat unclear. In the present context, COE is defined as "a preeminent research base that promotes highly creative scientific research at the most advanced level in the world."

(b) Organizational concept for COEs

: Depending on such factors as the research field and the nature of research activities, conceivable organizational units for a COE might include a chair and research section, a special course, a major field, a discipline, a research department, a research facility or center, or a network of related research organizations. These can be broadly divided into the following categories, depending on the nature of the research organization:

(i) Relatively large research organizations with clearly defined organizational structures;
(ii) Groups of loosely linked research organizations;
(iii) Groups of researchers working together under a preeminent researcher;
(iv) Joint-use groups established primarily to share facilities and equipment.

Japan already has some university and graduate school research organizations and inter-university research institutes with outstanding research environments and distinguished research records that make them worthy of being called COEs. In the future, these and other COES in many different fields must be developed aggressively.

(c) COE formation strategies

: The initiative for COE formation should come from research institutes, individual researchers, and research groups themselves, and must be given active support. Combining existing strategies with programs like the following will be necessary to further develop and enhance COEs.

(i) Program to form core research bases

: This program will focus on research organizations that are established around preeminent researchers and carrying out world-class research and that have the potential to evolve into core research bases in specific fields. Such organizations would be fostered as COEs.

(ii) Program to support the creation of advanced research environments

: This program aims to contribute to the formation of Centers of Excellence in specific fields by developing high-quality research environments capable of attracting a wide range of researchers from Japan and overseas. This will require the prioritized establishment of superior research facilities capable of supporting world-class research.

(iii) Support program for core research institutions

: This program will promote the further advancement of field-specific research institutes that already have the distinctive features of COEs, as well as of research institutes that, because of their nature, should be developed as COES (such as inter-university research institutes, and facilities attached to national universities for the joint use of all university researchers in Japan).

(3) Budget for COE Formation

In line with the report and recommendations of the Science Council, MESSC has made budgetary provisions for these programs since fiscal 1995. In fiscal 1997, it allocated funds totaling \13,454 million (a yearly increase of \2,086 million) for COE formation under the above three programs. This figure includes funds for research, facilities and equipment, fellowships for young Japanese researchers and postdoctoral foreign researchers, and international symposia. In this way, MESSC is helping to support research institutes and organizations that are striving to become COEs.

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