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"National University Reform and President's Leadership,"
in Japan-UK Higher Education Programme of Collaboration Open Forum

June 7, 2004

 

Sir Howard, distinguished guests from the UK, and all participants from the various universities,

It is quite an honor for me to be here and to say a few words to you this morning. I extend a special welcome to all the guests from the UK, who so kindly have come to Japan for this workshop.

I was in London two days ago to celebrate the tenth anniversary of JSPS's London Office. I came back just yesterday. The event was held at the Royal Society. Ms. Jannette Cheong was among the several guests who attended it. It was a great success, and it also gave me the chance to meet many people working in higher education and in Japan-UK relations. We enjoyed England's lovely June weather: full of green and flowers, nice sunshine, refreshing air, and comfortable temperatures. I would like to have stayed for the weekend and enjoyed a beer at a countryside pub, but I needed to rush back to Tokyo for this workshop. However, our British guests here today are even "more lovely and more temperate," as Shakespeare said in his Sonnet 18. I am just sorry you have to experience Japan's June climate, which is not always so perfect.

This morning, I wish to talk about "National University Reform and the University President's Leadership. " I was asked to do this by Kimura-sensei several months ago. At first I was hesitant to accept the assignment, because it is such a big topic. I also heard that Mr. Osaki already gave a comprehensive presentation on it at the workshop last October. Nevertheless, I will try to elaborate on the subject for our British guests.

JSPS at a Glance
First, I'd like to take a little time to briefly describe JSPS, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

JSPS is a research funding agency working in support of universities and research institutes. We have been an "independent administrative institution" since last October. Before that, JSPS's operation was under the supervision of MEXT. This new status now gives JSPS more freedom in managing its programs and operations. This, in turn, allows us more flexibility to work on behalf of the universities.

There has been a steady increase in JSPS's funding. This year, our budget reached almost 200 billion yen, which is around 1 billion pounds. Most of this money goes to the universities as competitive research grants, which we call Grants-in-Aid. These grants are a main source of funding for universities that want to conduct research. Therefore, JSPS's budget increase is due to the government's initiative to increase the volume of Grants-in-Aid for universities.

One of the big differences between JSPS and the research councils in the UK is that JSPS covers all fields of the natural sciences, humanities and social sciences. Around 80 thousand grant proposals come to JSPS every year. One-fourth of them are accepted. Among the research fields supported by JSPS, humanities and the social sciences account for 17%; science and engineering, 36%; and bioscience including medicine, 45%.

By the way, JSPS does not set a quota for each academic field. Most of JSPS's funding is distributed on a competitive basis. The natural sciences tend to receive more money because research in them is usually more expensive to conduct. However, it is the results of peer reviews on the quantity and quality of the proposals that sets the allocation trend in each field.

JSPS Core-to-Core Program
Apart from Grants-in-Aid, international collaboration is JSPS's number one priority. Last year, we started a new program, called the "JSPS Core-to-Core Program." The purpose of this program is to build international collaborations in cutting-edge fields. Under it, JSPS supports Japanese universities that do "core" work in such advanced fields. This is a multilateral program with industrially developed countries. We started twelve projects this year. Five of them are in cooperation with the United Kingdom.

Allow me to mention them briefly.
•  We are supporting Kyoto University and Cambridge in a project on Molecular Analysis, particularly for cancer treatment.
•  The National Institute for Basic Biology and Wellcome Trust Cancer Research Institute are collaborating in Functional Genomics.
•  Tsukuba University and Edinburgh are working on Computational Particle Physics.
•  Tokyo University and Strathclyde in Glasgow are supported by JSPS in the field of Ultrafast Intense Laser Science.
•  Lastly, the National Astronomical Observatory and Cambridge are working together to establish a Virtual Observatory.

JSPS has earmarked funds for these projects. All of them just started this year. I hope they will serve to develop good networks between Japanese and UK universities.

Other Programs between Japan & the UK
Our London Office, which just celebrated its tenth anniversary, held a special symposium at Sheffield University last year. It has an excellent department for Japanese studies. The meeting, kindly attended by Professor Boucher, was very beneficial. This is another example of how JSPS is working in close cooperation with British universities.

Of course, I should not forget to mention Sir David Watson's Brighton University. JSPS and the Royal Society jointly support several research activities. One of them is a joint project by Brighton and a Japanese university in the area of civil engineering.

Also, JSPS offers fellowship programs for inviting young scientists from the UK to Japan, and for sending young Japanese scientists to the UK. We have another program with the British Council to attract young British scientists to Japan.

Through these various activities, JSPS supports well over 200 researchers a year in Japan-UK scientific collaborations. I am sure this figure will increase dramatically this year.

21st Century COE Program
Let me introduce another program. The "21st Century COE Program" was launched 2 years ago by JSPS and MEXT. This program aims to develop a more competitive academic environment by creating Centers of Excellence in Japanese universities.

Using third-party evaluations, the 21st Century COE Program is having an impact on the structural reform of Japanese universities. It is also stimulating discussion among university faculty on the future of education and research.

A wide range of proposals are accepted. Currently, around 250 projects are supported under the program. Each receives from 0.5 million to 2.5 million pounds per year over several years. Many of the COE grants are awarded to the large traditional universities. However, a good number of smaller universities are also awarded grants due to their unique and innovative research approaches. I am impressed with the diversity and depth of research capacity among Japanese universities.

I want to emphasize that university presidents play a key leadership role in the proposal preparation process. This is quite different from ordinary research grants. Under this program, applications for grants are filed by the president of a university. Thanks to this scheme, university presidents are able to exert strong leadership in selecting world-class projects to be implemented within their universities. This process has been very effective in vitalizing the universities. It also has attracted wide media attention.

National University Reform
Now I'd like to move to my main topic, university reform. I have worked many years in this arena. National universities play an important role in advancing Japanese science and technology. They have recently been given a new corporate status.

I should explain why Japan needed university reform.

National universities had been government institutions until March of this year. As such, they had to follow many government rules and regulations. This prevented universities from taking initiative and doing new things.

Moreover, much of the national universities' funding was guaranteed by the government. This was good for maintaining their stable operations, but it shielded them from competition. This is why national universities were criticized as being a "well-guarded convoy."

Another problem was that the actual authority to make decisions in each university lay with their faculty council. Decisions required the consensus of all the council members. I am afraid that the university president did not have the authority to break deadlocks or enact reforms at his own discretion. As a result, it took years to undertake new initiatives.

It is this situation that brought about the need to reform the national university system.

National University Corporations
All of Japan's national universities became "corporations" this April.

Besides freeing them from many government regulations and giving them greater autonomy, this new status allows universities to operate under a top-down management structure. This helps to reduce time-consuming disputes among faculty members.

Under the new system, universities establish clear objectives and plans to achieve them. Each university submitted a six-year plan to MEXT at the time it became a corporation.

Advantages Gained
Let's take a look now at some of the advantages gained by converting national universities into corporations.

First of all, students will be able to enjoy more flexible curricula better suited to their various needs. External evaluation can also help improve the instruction they receive.

Secondly, faculty members may be able to enjoy performance-based benefits. Also, it will be possible for universities to employ eminent outside researchers for short-term periods through the introduction of an annual salary system. A university will even be able to invite a person from another country to be its president or dean.

Lastly, the new system has some advantages in the university's relationship with private companies. Civil service regulations no longer apply to universities. This allows researchers to hold a concurrent post in the private sector. This is expected to expand collaborative research and technology transfer with private companies. It should also enhance technical guidance and consultation provided to venture businesses and small and medium enterprises.

Quality Assurance
These are the advantages, but more autonomy also means more responsibilities. University administration is no longer fully overseen by the government. Since universities now have more freedom, new ways are needed to assure the quality of their programs.

For this purpose, each university has drawn up its own 6-year Mid-term Plan and submitted it to MEXT. They are expected to carry out a variety of activities based on these plans.

Also, external assessments by official agencies will be introduced. Their results may be taken into account when considering future funding.

The "National Institution for Academic Degrees and University Evaluation" will take leading responsibility for assessing program quality at the universities. Their role is very crucial in monitoring the progress and performance of education and research in the universities. Universities are expected to thrive under these new mid-term plan and assessment schemes.

New Responsibilities of Government
Before the new system started, many universities were concerned about their allocated budgets. They questioned whether they would continue to receive an appropriate level of funding from the government. It turned out that, at least this year, universities are receiving the same level of funding as they had before.

I myself negotiated the funding issue with high officials of the Ministry of Finance, as I had heard the concerns voiced by many university presidents. I was convinced that university autonomy should not reduce the government's responsibility for supporting higher education. That is, the new scheme should not be used as an excuse to reduce total funding from the government. In Japan, the entire public sector is undergoing "administrative reform" to make government smaller. However, funding for higher education and science should be treated with careful consideration.

There may still be uncertainties regarding the new scheme. But, I hope the government, particularly MEXT, will offer a future plan to encourage and motivate universities to improve their activities. Especially, the government will need to give more consideration to the university funding system.

Let me elaborate a little further my views on this issue.

Effective and efficient management has become a very important priority in the higher education sector. But, simple funding cuts and budget reductions will not have a positive impact on Japanese universities, which must compete with universities in other countries. Universities with good performance should be rewarded appropriately. Of course, this means that we need to adopt a strict attitude toward poor results. We cannot expect that equal treatment be given to all universities.

A desire for "equality" has spread to all sectors of Japan. But, this is a false concept of equality-one that breeds uniformity and mediocrity. It is undermining Japan's very foundations. We must press for radical reform, though it will produce losers as well as winners.

We are introducing an evaluation procedure in the university system. It is only natural that, based on the results, some should receive more and others less. If most universities continue to receive the same level of assessment-that is, "good" or "satisfactory"-I have no choice but to question the value of the evaluation system itself. We need to develop a highly critical evaluation system so as to identify truly world-class universities, ones in which we will be happy to invest.
We should increase overall funding in higher education and research so as to better reward good universities and to advance important academic fields. In doing so, we need to make proactive use of the national budget.

New Responsibilities of Universities
Responsibility does not lie only with government. Universities, themselves, need to exercise efficient management, and work hard to find external sources of income. Under the new framework, the role of JSPS has become more important as a research funding agency. We will be very happy to work together with universities to make Japanese higher education truly world class.

For universities, efficient and effective management is necessary to assure public accountability. It is not effective to just shout "We need more money!" Each university needs to gain the respect and trust of the public, if it wants to be supported. Universities must be transparent to the public and reflect a wide range of views from the public in the operation of their programs. To that end, national universities are now establishing systems to facilitate closer and more active communication with society.

I would like to also point out the need for staff development and training. As administrative staffs are no longer civil servants working for MEXT, their automatic job rotation from one university to another is out of the question. Universities should take strong initiative in developing the quality of their staffs. They will need to do so to maintain good human resources in every field, including accounting, international affairs, and liaison with the business sector.

In all these respects, strong leadership by the university president is necessary.

Leadership in Three Directions
University presidents need to exercise leadership in three directions: toward the government, toward society, and toward the university itself.

The first entails working and negotiating with the government. Specifically,
•  Presenting the university's long-term plan
•  Persuading the government to increase block grants
•  Obtaining capital grants
•  Securing support for basic research, and
•  Responding to assessments made by various government agencies.

The second, leadership aimed at society, entails PR toward and work with society. For example,
•  Meeting broad expectations from the industrial and civic sectors,
•  Listening to the views of non-university people,
•  Gaining support from the private sector,
•  Promoting close links with industry, and
•  Sharing research outcomes with the public.

The last, leadership toward the university, entails the establishment of a good management system. Especially,
•  Showing leadership towards the faculty council,
•  Grasping and directing general trends within the university,
•  Allocating resources effectively,
•  Coordinating the three new boards set up within the university: the executive board, administrative board, and academic board,
•  Possessing a good sense of balance and strong sense of responsibility,
•  Creating a balance between top-down and bottom-up management,
•  Leading the university's administrative departments, and
•  Delivering meaningful messages to the students.

Of course, when I say "leadership," I do not mean simply a top-down process. The president must exercise leadership ensuring that ideas generated by other university staff are developed, and not squashed. One-directional leadership could result in disorder and confusion within the organization.

Ten Qualifications
Everybody agrees that both the university president's role and responsibility are very large. In this sense, the president may be called the CEO of a university. Counting them, there are ten qualities that a university president might be expected to possess: In addition to a strong ability in research and education, he must be able to exercise judgment, accountability, and responsibility; have patience; be skilled in planning, coordinating, and fund-raising; and have a good sense of direction. But saying this, I am afraid no one would qualify, let alone want to be, a university president. It would be ideal if the president could be this kind of a super-human.

If this is not possible, he should, at the very least, have good character and a good brain; be bold and courageous; and possess a positive attitude along with a good sense of humor.

Closing
Before closing, I would like to touch upon one last issue.

As I mentioned earlier, each national university now has three boards established within it: an executive board, an administrative board, and an academic board. The president needs to work effectively with these boards. Additionally, there is the role of the faculty council, which exists separately from them. Under this new system, an important issue is who will succeed in the tug-of-war between the faculty council and the president. Will the faculty council continue to have the final say? Or will the president demonstrate strong leadership and shake the university free of faculty council control?

University incorporation has just gotten started in Japan. It offers a once-in-a-century opportunity. What we need to do at this stage is to breathe a spirit of energy and animation into the reform process. The real tasks of reform still lie ahead; we must go about accomplishing them with vigor and courage.

This brings my presentation to a close. Thank you very much for your kind attention.