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Avoidance of Science Study Damages Japan’s Competitiveness

Avoidance of Science Study Damages Japan’s Competitiveness

Posted May. 20, 2008 03:55,   


Japan is paying a high price for “rikei banare,” or “flight from science,” which began two decades ago. The International Herald Tribune reported on Sunday on the rikei banare phenomenon among Japanese students, saying that it can result in a big blow to Japan’s competitiveness.

Since the late 1990s, the number of undergraduates enrolled in science and engineering majors has fallen 10 percent to about 500,000. The Ministry of Internal Affairs’ estimate shows that the digital technology industry in Japan is already short almost half a million engineers.

The IHT pointed to Japanese students’ westernized ideas on job as the biggest cause behind the avoidance of science and engineering departments in universities. Japanese youths no longer prefer jobs in the tiresome manufacturing business unlike their parents, and jobs that demand strenuous effort and study are losing popularity, the newspaper explained.

In fact, the bigger problem is the widespread understanding in society that those working in science or engineering fields have to put up with low wages. A research by the Toray Management Research Institute in 2007 showed that the average annual salary of people from science and engineering colleges (5.29 million yen) was higher than that of people from humanities colleges (4.52 million yen) by about 17 percent until the age of 30. However, the average annual salary of engineers aged above 30 is below the level of those from humanities colleges. In the end, by the time they turn 60, they earn 10-31 percent less than their counterparts.

The newspaper said that though Japanese companies are trying to hire engineers from other countries to combat the labor shortage, foreign engineers either face the wall of language or Japan’s closed corporate culture. Many companies find it difficult to hire qualified engineers from Vietnam or India.

Realizing the seriousness of the matter, the Japanese government launched the Asian Talent Fund, an annual $30-million effort to offer Asian students Japanese language training and internship opportunities.

Since 2005, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has injected 318 million yen into elementary and middle schools for the regional projects named “I Like Science and Math.” Faculty members of colleges or volunteers from science research centers plan to teach the students about the fun of science through field studies at corporate facilities or science labs.