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Government forces ahead with research university plan, experts doubt

Date Posted: 2002-06-28

One of the hottest topics in the government plans to boost Okinawa’s economic fortunes is the planned top class research university. Although much of the plan remains unclear and in the planning stage, officials aim at opening the facility as early as in 2006.

Skeptics abound, especially among top scholars in the world, both in Japan and overseas. They say that Okinawa is simply too remote to be able to attract top talent. They say that what most researchers want more than anything is a close scientific community that would create a stimulating atmosphere for scientific research.

Foreign researchers also point out that Japanese universities have a poor reputation for paying very low wages compared to top research universities elsewhere in the world. At the same time local community leaders are jockeying to attract the facility offering both land and subsidies.

In order to give the new university a jump-start, the government has organized international seminars inviting foreign and domestic top researchers to give their ideas. The government is also requesting a budget of ¥5 billion for the fiscal 2003 that the university planners say would get the facility started. Running the university is estimated to cost ¥2 billion a year.

Critics say that the timetable is too tight and both the planned starting and annual operational fund estimates unrealistically low. Professor Philip G. Altbach of Boston College wrote a stinging opinion about the plan in Tuesday’s Japan Times newspaper saying “regardless of salary and other incentives, it will be very difficult to attract top talent to Okinawa, mainly because of its remote location.”

The government is planning to set up a foundation-style company to run the university. Half of the teachers and researchers would be recruited from outside Japan. The language in the university would be English.

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