TOKYO—Funding to complete a controversial supercomputer, plan a second Hayabusa asteroid sample retrieval mission, and dramatically expand research into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells is on the agenda of Japan's Ministry of Education for the fiscal year that begins next April. Getting what it wants will require clearing some political and bureaucratic hurdles.
Tatsuo Kawabata, the education minister, unveiled the requested budget late yesterday here, saying that the "extremely severe financial situation" had restricted the ministry's hand. But it is still asking for an overall 4% increase in research spending to $21 billion. The biggest increases go toward fields identified as priorities by the ruling Democratic Party, of which Kawabata is a member in Japan's parliament. These areas are life sciences, including iPS cell—related research and neuroscience; green technologies; and the development of human resources, which the ministry hopes to turn into more scholarships and increased support for young researchers.
The ministry is hoping some new justifications for a next-generation supercomputer will win over some Democratic Party members who questioned the project a year ago. And Hayabusa, a spacecraft that returned to Earth after visiting an asteroid despite a host of mishaps, attracted public interest. That mission helped ensure funding for Japan's space efforts will remain essentially flat at $2.3 billion.
Even standing still will be an accomplishment given Japan's financial situation. To rein in a growing national debt, the government instructed ministries to cut budgets 10% across the board. But it
opened a back door in the form of a $12 billion fund for projects that will be competitively reviewed at the Cabinet level. The 4% requested increase for R&D hinges on the education ministry getting its fair share of that pot of money. Given the uncertainties, "We'll have to see what we have in December," when the budget is finalized, says Kazuaki Kawabata, the ministry's director of research and development policy (no relation to the minister).