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HOME  > Past issues  > 2008 January 16 - 22  > Government must take urgent measures to secure stable postdoctoral positions
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2008 January 16 - 22 [SOCIAL ISSUES]
editorial 

Government must take urgent measures to secure stable postdoctoral positions

January 15, 2008
Akahata editorial

A shortage of jobs for those who have completed doctoral degrees has become a serious social problem. Almost half remain unemployed. Only a handful can start full-time research careers. For this reason, talented students are becoming more reluctant to become researchers, and the number of graduate students who are willing to take doctoral courses has decreased, thus running the risk of losing capable researchers. This situation poses a serious problem to Japan’s academic research as well as its social development. The government must take drastic measures to deal with this.

No guarantee for researchers’ study and life

Most of those who have earned their doctorates cannot find full-time research posts and are obliged to take up short-term jobs such as postdoctoral fellows (“post-docs”) with fixed-term contracts of three to five-years or positions as part-time university lecturers. There is no guarantee for them to be able to continue to study and make a living after the term expires. The number of young researchers who have missed the chance to find research posts or other stable occupations while repeatedly taking up such short-term positions is rapidly increasing.

Among some 15,000 “post-docs”, 40 percent are not covered by social insurance at their workplaces and a number of them earn less than two million yen a year. Out of some 25,000 part-time university lecturers, 40 percent earn less than 2.5 million yen and only less than 10 percent are covered by social insurance at their workplaces.

These young people are called “highly-educated economic refugees” or “working poor with higher education.”

It is misguided government policies in science and technology that have created such a problem. Since the 1990’s, the government has pushed ahead with a plan to double the number of graduate students and sharply increased the number of doctorate holders from 6,000 in 1990 to 16,000. At the same time, however, the government has failed to take necessary measures to deal with the increase in the number of graduate students such as an increase in the number of staff in higher education, increasing the budget of universities and research institutes, and securing job opportunities for degree holders, including posts in private companies. Behind this misgovernment lies the stingy education policy as shown by Japan’s education budget that amounts to only half of European countries or the United States in terms of the GDP ratio.

What’s more, “structural reform” policies destroying employment based on market fundamentalism has been implemented in academic fields. The government has slashed financial assistance to the basic budget of research institutes and universities and replaced full-time positions with non-regular employment such as “post-docs” that are hired using competitive grant funds.

In particular, the government has slashed subsidies to state-run universities and independent administrative institutions and imposed a five-percent cut in personnel costs on them, thus cutting back the employment of regular researchers. As a result, many institutes now face serious difficulties in their academic pursuits due to shortages of successors.

It is necessary to fundamentally redress the situation in order to solve young researchers’ employment problems and their unstable working conditions. The government has begun taking steps to support them in the name of assistance to a “diversified career choice” and the introduction of a “system to get stable employment,” but they are simply far from adequate.

The need now is for the government to conduct fact-finding surveys on the serious conditions of young researches such as “post-docs” and part-time lecturers, and to take drastic measures to solve the problems based on the survey results.

Increase the number of teaching staff and researchers

To this end, the government is urgently required to increase the number of teaching staff and researchers at universities and research institutes as well as to curb the number of non-regular researchers and teachers. The number of students per full-time teaching staff member at universities in Japan is 140 percent more than that in Britain and 170 percent more than that in Germany. Judging from these figures, it is essential to increase the number of teaching staff at universities.

We strongly calls for measures to increase researchers’ wages based on the “equal-job equal-pay system,” assist “post-docs” in their career pursuits, and expand financial support to graduate students.
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