2022/7/12 Statement by Science Council of Japan on “Mass Dismissal”

At the end of March 2023, there are fears of the massive dismissal of limited-term contract researchers and teachers at universities and research and development institutions nationwide.

This is one of the moves to “avoid the conversion to unlimited-term contracts.”

On July 12, 2022, the Executive Committee of the Science Council of Japan issued a statement on this issue.

Statement from the Board of Directors of the Science Council of Japan

Aiming for a Solution to the Problem of the So-Called “Layoffs” of Limited-Term Researchers and University Lecturers, Etc.

It has been pointed out that, at the end of March, Reiwa 5 (2023), researchers, lecturers, etc. (henceforth “researchers”) engaged in research and education at universities and at research and development institutions–thousands of individuals–will reach the end of their employment period; and that many of these will be denied a renewed contract or a change to unlimited-term, thereby losing their jobs. In order to solve this problem, we believe cooperation between the government, universities, research institutions, and the Science Council of Japan will be necessary.

As a result of the Labor Contract Act amendment in April of Heisei 25 (2013), those under labor contract for over five years gained the right to seek a change to an unlimited-term labor contract. Then on April 1 of the following year, the “Act to Amend Parts of the Act on Strengthening Research and Development Capability, Etc., by Promoting Reform of Research Systems, and on Efficient Promotion of Research and Development, and the Act on Terms of Office, Etc., for University Lecturers, Etc.” was passed (later amended to the “Act on Revitalizing Science, Technology and Innovation Creation”). The limit for researchers, etc., to be able to change to unlimited employment was extended from five to ten years. This is what has led to the problem. When this amendment was being discussed, on May 31 of Heisei 24 (2012), some worries were expressed by expert members of the Council for Science and Technology Policy, based on hearing from persons connected with universities. An approach to dealing with the question was also indicated (note 1). But next year at the end of March, when ten years have passed, there will be researchers whose terms of employment come to an end.

This situation is being dealt with differently by individual universities and research institutions. While some have been seen to grant unlimited-term contracts to everyone, it has been pointed out that others may refuse to renew labor contracts (in other words, make layoffs) in order to avoid the switch to unlimited-term. These differences of approach may stem from differences of institutional mission, financial capability or ways of thinking about labor contracts for researchers. But if the matter is left up to the judgement and efforts of individual institutions alone, it is feared that extreme disparities of treatment may arise, despite all such institutions having the same mission of research. The loss this causes to the search for knowledge may be great.

In thinking of solutions to this problem, the most essential point is not only that it is a major issue of rights, relating to each researcher’s work and life; but also that it is a dire problem for Japan’s research capabilities, which are already in urgent need of fundamental reconstruction and strengthening. The national government, academia, and individual universities and institutions must come to a shared awareness of the issue, and seek out a radical solution from a broad point of view. In addition to the direct impact of the stalling of research when those in charge of already ongoing projects lose their employment, it will also make research itself less attractive as a future career, keep a talented and promising young generation of people from feeling an interest in the world of learning and knowledge, and bring great difficulty to recruiting personnel, which should be the bedrock of high-level research and education. There is a need for this problem to be taken seriously.

The Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has already indicated the position that “layoffs” with the intent of evading a switch to unlimited-term are “not desirable” in terms of the spirit of the Labor Contract Act (note 2). Universities and research institutions are asked to make greater efforts with this understanding. At the same time, this issue includes dimensions that cannot be resolved by individual institutions’ policies, and must be addressed by other means, including even by legislation. These include: consideration of an appropriate balance between guaranteeing researchers stable employment and securing mobility; establishment of a system for maintaining researchers’ employment through cooperation between institutions; securing of the funds for this; or consideration of special types of employment contract to fit the specific form of labor done by researchers, different from other professions.

The Board of Directors of the Science Council of Japan believes that government and academia must join forces and take quick action in order to solve this problem. In order to do this, relevant government ministries and agencies, the National Universities Association and other university groups, relevant groups of research and development organizations, and individual universities and research institutions must all share information and work in close coordination to plan ways of correcting the situation. In addition, there is a need to achieve wide-ranging consensus on the work-style and conditions of researchers (especially junior researchers), and how they may build their careers. The Science Council of Japan itself also intends to cooperate with relevant institutions and organizations in order to deliberate possible measures.

(note 1) Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) homepage: https://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/shingi/gijyutu/gijyutu10/siryo/attach/1335760.htm

(note 2) MEXT homepage: https://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/daijin/detail/mext_00255.html

July 12, Reiwa 4 [2022]

Board of Directors, Science Council of Japan

Chair: Kajita Takaaki

Vice-Chair: Mochizuki Mayumi

Vice-Chair: Hishida Koichi

Vice-Chair: Takamura Yukari

Director, 1st Department: Hashimoto Shinya

Vice-Director, 1st Department: Mizohata Satoshi

Secretary, 1st Department: Kobayashi Hiroshi

Secretary, 1st Department: Hibiya Michiko

Director, 2nd Department: Takeda Hiroyuki

Vice-Director, 2nd Department: Tange Ken

Secretary, 2nd Department: Ozaki Toshio

Secretary, 2nd Department: Kanda Reiko

Director, 3rd Department: Yoshimura Shinobu

Vice-Director, 3rd Department: Yoneda Masako

Secretary, 3rd Department: Oki Taikan

Secretary, 3rd Department: Kitagawa Nao