Nagahiro Minato, 27th President
Today, Kyoto University welcomes 83 new students enrolling in master's programs, 138 enrolling in doctoral programs, and five enrolling in professional degree programs. On behalf of the University's faculty and staff members, I congratulate all of you on your enrollment at Kyoto University. I also extend my warmest congratulations to your families and all those who have encouraged and supported you thus far. For the past two years, as part of our efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the welcome to our new graduate students has been delivered in the form of an online video, but my colleagues and I are delighted to be able to hold this autumn graduate school entrance ceremony in person for the first time in three years.
Today marks your first step towards engaging in real research in your chosen fields. In addition to its 18 graduate schools, Kyoto University has over 30 affiliated research institutes and centers that will provide you with study and research opportunities through their graduate programs. Students in our master's programs are expected to build on the fundamental knowledge and expertise they acquired at the undergraduate level to develop advanced knowledge and skills, as well as the diverse arts and techniques required of all researchers and highly-skilled professionals. Students in doctoral courses will begin work on their dissertations by first determining their own research theme, and then conducting practical research in accordance with the researchers' code of conduct. For those seeking to address complex issues in modern society, three Doctoral Programs for World-leading Innovative & Smart Education — the WISE Programs — enable students to conduct practical research in interdisciplinary fields that transcend the boundaries of individual academic disciplines.
I believe that there has never been a time when academic culture and technological advances have had such a direct and significant impact on society and human life as they do today. It can be said that research is first motivated by an individual's curiosity and desire to explore the unknown, but beyond individual curiosity, you will inevitably also have to think about the social significance that your future research activities may have. You may have often heard the terms "basic research" and "applied research". Or more generally, the terms "science" and "technology" are frequently used.
Until the mid-18th century, scientific research was the preserve of the aristocracy, who had the resources and time to spare. For example, after studying at Cambridge University, Henry Cavendish, a member of the wealthy family of the Duke of Devonshire, built a laboratory and workshop in his villa, where he conducted various experiments on his own to satisfy his curiosity. Although Cavendish published only 18 papers through the Royal Society during his lifetime, James Clerk Maxwell, a pioneer in the field of electromagnetism, conducted detailed verification and reproduction experiments based on the voluminous experimental notes that he left after his death. As a result, many important scientific principles of modern physics and chemistry were proven by extremely precise experiments. With regard to technology, from the improvement of the steam engine by James Watt in Britain to the invention of the internal combustion engine principle by Nicolaus Otto in Germany, we entered the so-called industrialization era. Rapid technological advancements in various areas led to dynamic social and economic changes. Joseph Schumpeter, a social economist from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, used the term "innovation" to describe the movement towards a state of social equilibrium when various technological advances occur one after another and are connected and combined in completely new ways, resulting in rapid changes in economic systems and in people's lives. There is no doubt that technology has played a major role in social change and development.
Amid such development, it is only relatively recently that the terms "basic research" and "applied research" were used for the first time. In 1945, in a report submitted by US scientific advisor Vannevar Bush to President Harry S Truman titled Science-The Endless Frontier, Bush asserted that a distinction should be drawn between "basic science", devoted to research, and "applied science", aiming at product development, and that public funding should be invested in universities, as they are expected to conduct only basic research, but not in companies, which engage in applied research. The concept was strongly reflected in US science and technology policies, and it is believed that the strong financial support for scientific research at universities is the reason that the US has led the world's scientific and technological development in terms of both quantity and quality since the late 20th century. However, the report was solely concerned with where public funding for scientific research should be directed, and it seems it did not extend to considering the content or motives of the research.
Indeed, at the dawn of modern science, there was a gap between research that sought to elucidate the truth and invention that sought to create social value, and there was a stark difference in the standpoint and awareness of scientists and engineers. However, in modern times when science and technology have evolved dramatically and inseparably, simple dualisms, such as "science and technology" or "basic and applied", do not seem very realistic. It is now not at all uncommon for the results of research based on genuine interest and a spirit of inquiry to be developed very quickly into groundbreaking social applications. The recent rapid proliferation of "start-up entrepreneurship" based on basic research results is also a reflection of this. On the other hand, unexpected scientific discoveries may also emerge from development research intended for specific applications. Today, scientific breakthroughs cannot be expected without technological advances, and conversely, new technological advances are impossible without innovative basic research outcomes. "Conducting research" now extends beyond the framework of an individual activity, and should be considered one of the most important social contribution activities. I do not think it is particularly necessary to categorize your future academic research endeavors into the classical frameworks of basic research or applied research.
Rather, what we should think about now are the ways that academic culture and scientific research at universities can contribute to society. The way in which a contribution is made may vary greatly depending on the academic or scientific field. Some may contribute to issues that require immediate solutions, while others may contribute to the accumulation of academic knowledge for the future. In his book, The Tyranny of Merit, Professor Michael Sandel of Harvard University describes the German philosopher Hegel's theory of labor — the concept that a labor market system not only rewards labor with income, but also publicly recognizes each person's labor as a contribution to the common good. Sandel asserts that "we are most fully human when we contribute to the common good and earn the esteem of our fellow citizens for the contributions we make. According to this tradition, the fundamental human need is to be needed by those with whom we share a common life". No matter what kind of academic or scientific research you engage in, I think it is necessary to keep this kind of civil society perspective in mind.
You are all about to enter graduate schools dedicated to various academic fields at Kyoto University, which this year celebrates the 127th anniversary of its founding, and you will be able to embark on genuine academic research. I would like to reiterate that personal curiosity and the desire to explore the unknown are the driving forces of academic culture and scientific research, and that will not change no matter how much the times change. If we look at the development of science and technology since the 20th century, we can see that the breakthroughs were achieved due to the frontier spirit of researchers who boldly pioneered new fields. And it can be said that this process has often been facilitated by encounters between different academic fields. Since its founding, Kyoto University has valued the spirit of academic freedom above all else. In research, this means the mental freedom to free one's own thinking from social conventions and empirical constraints — the essence of the frontier spirit. It is a tradition of Kyoto University that has been passed down as so-called "tacit knowledge". From now on, within the University's culture of academic freedom, you will all pursue fulfilling lives as researchers in your respective fields, and by deepening your interaction with colleagues of diverse generations, nationalities, and specializations, I hope that you will discover a new world of academic research.
I offer my sincere congratulations once again to each and every one of you on your enrollment.