UK-Japanese collaboration to address COVID-19 challenges

National flags of the UK and Japan waving in the sky

UK-Japanese social science and humanities projects to address the challenges presented by the global pandemic.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) have jointly awarded 10 collaborative research projects.

These projects will focus on supporting global efforts to manage the effects of the pandemic, including:

  • its impact on the labour market
  • the mental health implications for children and parents
  • the impact on the future sustainability of culture
  • how the pandemic is affecting public trust in institutions
  • the impact of the increased reliance on video conferencing technologies for deaf people.

Each project team will involve researchers from both countries who have chosen to collaborate in areas of mutual strength and joint interest.

International collaboration

Professor Alison Park, Interim Executive Chair of ESRC, said:

We are delighted to collaborate with the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science to fund these projects.

Together they demonstrate the breadth and relevance of the social sciences and humanities in tackling global issues arising from the pandemic.

These awards will strengthen partnerships between the UK and Japanese research communities and encourage interdisciplinary working and capacity building.

Most importantly, the projects will bring fresh perspectives to bear on many issues of major public and policy interest, providing valuable research evidence that can be used in decision making to bring about positive change.

Strength of UK-Japan research partnerships

Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair of AHRC, said:

These projects bring together the humanities and social sciences to help capture the complexity of our experiences during the pandemic.

This collaboration demonstrates the value and enduring strength of UK-Japan research partnerships across the humanities and social sciences.

They demonstrate how committed AHRC, ESRC and JSPS are to understanding the challenges and opportunities facing policymakers and practitioners as we emerge from the pandemic and their insights will play a vital role in driving our post-pandemic recovery towards more equitable cultures and societies.

Fostering excellent young researchers

Dr Susumu Satomi, President of JSPS, said:

JSPS is happy to have this platform to work with ESRC and AHRC in supporting joint research projects that seek to bolster the sustainability of societies.

Amidst this unprecedented global pandemic, researchers from the UK and Japan are drawing upon the multifaceted knowledge and wisdom rooted in the humanities and social sciences as they strive to tackle and solve prevailing issues.

These joint projects are not only important in terms of spawning future research advances and boosting research capacities but moreover can be pivotal in fostering excellent young researchers who will play active roles in the global arena and in strengthening further research networks between the UK and Japan.

Addressing pandemic issues

This is the second UKRI initiative run in collaboration with JSPS following a successful previous opportunity focused on the life and environmental sciences.

While this opportunity was open across the entire breadth of the social sciences, arts and humanities, there was a coronavirus (COVID-19) steer, with applicants being asked how to:

  • address challenges
  • exploit opportunities presented by the pandemic.

The programme is being funded by the UKRI Fund for International Collaboration. This fund is intended to enhance the UK’s ability to build and strengthen partnerships with global research and innovation leaders.

UKRI, through AHRC and ESRC, is contributing £3.5 million and JSPS is contributing ¥300 million towards these projects.

Further information

The 10 projects

The 10 successful projects and their respective principal investigators (PI) are:

The COVID-19 shock: continuity and change in labour markets and employment policies in Japan and the UK

UK PI: Jonathan Portes, King’s College London

Japanese PI: Kotaro Tsuru, Keio University

This project will compare the labour market impacts and policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK and Japan.

They will contribute to finding solutions to the common medium and long-term problems that predated the pandemic.

Measuring trust and its variance during the COVID-19 pandemic using serial surveys and quantitative text analysis

UK PI: Steve Pickering, Brunel University London

Japanese PI: Yosuke Sunahara, Kobe University

This project will seek to understand the critical role that trust plays in public support and compliance with government COVID-19 policies.

It will also investigate how multiple factors affect the various dimensions of trust towards governmental COVID-19 responses and measures. These include:

  • age
  • gender
  • ethnicity
  • class
  • education
  • location
  • occupation
  • migration status
  • lived COVID-19 experience
  • media usage
  • political stance.

Sustainable culture futures: COVID-19 and resetting cultural policy

UK PI: Hye-Kyung Lee, King’s College London

Japanese PI: Nobuko Kawashima, Doshisha University

COVID-19 has profoundly affected every aspect of cultural life in society, from how we perceive culture to how it is produced and consumed.

This project will investigate three core concerns of cultural policy, the values of culture, cultural work and cultural consumption, under the shifting context caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Generating original findings on the shifting understandings, practice and purposes of cultural policy, the project’s comparative approach will offer unique opportunities for:

  • UK-Japan cross-national conversation
  • learning
  • problem-solving.

COVID-19 and the law: protection and recovery for vulnerable groups

UK PI: Eva Lein, British Institute of International and Comparative Law

Japanese PI: Yuko Nishitani, Kyoto University

As governments, businesses, and individuals face unique challenges in the pandemic, innovative approaches must be developed to address urgent needs.

Certain groups of people are more vulnerable than others, such as:

  • small businesses
  • consumers
  • women
  • children
  • supply chain workers in developing economies
  • migrants
  • refugees.

This project aims to focus on the protection of those who are at a higher risk of being negatively impacted by the pandemic.

It will assess the existing legal mechanisms in the UK and Japan in comparison to various legal systems and sectors.

It will identify the holistic needs of jurisdictions, to understand how to effectively maximise safety and access to justice for the most vulnerable.

Innovation and complementary capabilities for vaccines

UK PI: Anabel Marin, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

Japanese PI: Michiko Iizuka, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

The UK has launched the Pandemic Preparedness Partnership. It will advise the G7 Presidency on how to develop vaccines more quickly through greater global cooperation with considerable investment being made to support the development of new variant-specific vaccines.

This project will investigate the recent experience with COVID-19 vaccines, focusing on:

  • a specific group of firms
  • research institutions
  • countries with distinctive levels of capabilities and regulatory, cultural and business contexts (Japan, the UK, Germany, India, Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam, and Indonesia).

It will study the alignments and misalignments between the different kinds of capabilities, at the firm and regulatory level, that have been critical for introducing the new vaccines to the market.

Learning from the trajectories of mental health challenges for children, young people and parents across Japan and the UK over the course of COVID-19

UK PI: Simona Skripkauskaite, University of Oxford

Japanese PI: Naho Morisaki, National Centre for Child Health and Development

COVID-19 and the related public health measures have led to major disruptions to families’ lives, with different pressures arising for children, young people, and their families over time.

The project will build on a successful existing collaboration to use available expertise in:

  • international data analysis
  • text-mining approaches
  • patient and public involvement
  • translation of research into practice.

Together with young people and families, it aims to co-design guidelines for policymakers and health authorities which will:

  • mitigate identified mental health consequences of the pandemic and current policies
  • tailor future pandemic management strategies to minimise mental health impacts.

An interdisciplinary study on medical research and development: rescuing intellectual property rights in pandemic emergencies from the “tragedy of the anticommons”

UK PI: Roy Partain, University of Aberdeen

Japanese PI: Takeshi Maeda, Kobe University

To solve new medical problems, such as viral outbreaks, many patents, copyrights and other trade secrets need to be accessible to a variety of research labs in many countries.

However, coordination problems in the markets surrounding medical and pharmaceutical intellectual property (IP) rights could prevent the rapid development of treatments, cures and vaccines during the tightly packed timeframes of a moving pandemic.

This project seeks to find solutions to the ‘IP crisis’ to enable the continued functional trust of: the market and of property rights during pandemics.

Comparative research on pastoral societies in post-COVID19 Inner Asian countries: case study of Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan

UK PI: Ariell Ahearn, University of Oxford

Japanese PI: Takahiro Ozaki, Kagoshima University

This project will seek to address post-COVID-19 challenges in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan with the aim to explore, evaluate and inform inclusive and sustainable policy responses.

In lower-middle income countries, the pandemic intersects with complex environmental and socio-economic factors.

This impacts traditional rural mobile pastoralists and agropastoralist livelihoods. They are centres for food production and cultural heritage.

The aim is to advance:

  • civic engagement
  • democratic participation
  • social well-being
  • an inclusive COVID-19 recovery.

This is achieved through evidence-based, collaborative and multi-stakeholder approaches.

The project will also seek to empower rural communities as they transition into post-COVID-19 response.

They will put emphasis on:

  • opportunities for women
  • respect for herding and farming
  • viable education
  • lifestyle opportunities.

This will help build inclusive and enduring rural societies.

Understanding cross-signing phenomena in video conferencing situations during and post-COVID-19 in rural areas

UK PI: Robert Adam, Heriot-Watt University

Japanese PI: Mayumi Bono, Research Organization of Information and Systems

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to deaf people worldwide communicating via video conferencing systems.

This online modality may lead to the emergence of new trends in sign language in association with the sign language contact phenomenon. The purpose of this project is to investigate how the sign language and communication styles of deaf people are affected by video conferencing systems.

It will focus on British Sign Language (BSL) and Japanese Sign Language (JSL), which are from different sign language families.

Creative collaborations: salons and networks in Kyoto and Osaka 1780 to 1880

UK PI: Akiko Yano, British Museum

Japanese PI: Ryo Akama, Ritsumeikan University

This project has two parallel objectives:

  • a collaborative scholarly enterprise among researchers and institutions in Japan and the UK aiming to analyse the cultural and social impact of art and literary salons and collective creation of art(gassaku) in early modern Japan (specifically, the Kyoto-Osaka region during 1780 to 1880)
  • to explore how a Japan-UK research project may be delivered efficiently in the COVID-19 context by keeping physical travelling between the two countries to a bare minimum and examining the effectiveness of using digital online technologies for remote collaboration.

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