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Japan Reins in Science Budget Growth

The recent rapid growth in Japan's public spending on research will apparently slow to a crawl in the next fiscal year, thanks to efforts to cut a ballooning national budget deficit.

In budget requests submitted to the Ministry of Finance last week, the Ministry of Education (Monbusho), which funds most university-based research, asked for a total of $48.9 billion, an increase of just 1%. And the Science and Technology Agency (STA), which supports several national labs and large-scale research efforts, is requesting $6.2 billion, up just 1.4%. While total science-related requests won't be compiled for a few weeks, no one expects Japan will be able to match the 7% increase (to $25 billion) it gave research this year.

The requests follow a budget reform advisory panel's recommendations to slow down a 5-year plan for increasing the research budget by about 50% over current levels (Science, 13 June, p. 1642). Minoru Yonekura, an STA planning official, says that this plan is not being abandoned, but that the time frame is being extended indefinitely. Still, science officials are pleased they have support for slight increases, as many agencies are facing steep cuts.

Some fields are getting significant increases in spite of the low-growth trend. STA has requested a 67% increase, to $174 million, for life sciences, mostly to support a new genome research effort. At Monbusho, the account that includes university centers of excellence is being cut 6.5% to $1.1 billion, but the ministry is asking for $310 million for a suite of new programs to support research with high economic potential.

The budget figures could be squeezed further in negotiations this fall with the Finance Ministry. The final budget will be submitted to the Diet in early 1998 and take effect next 1 April.