TFormer Deputy Director-General of the Cabinet, Science & Technology Policy
Strengthen dialog with university
-for nurturing source of innovations -
The third Basic Plan on the Science and Technology Policy compiled by the Japanese Cabinet on March 28, 2006, defines the "innovations" as "generating new social and economic values with advanced scientific findings and technical inventions combined with human insights. Thus, this policy discusses "innovations" generated by the progress of science and technology. However, there can be many other kinds of the innovations policy, which do not presume the progress of science and technology as a source of the generation of new social and economic values. For example, changes in legal and institutional framework could generate innovations. And people normally do not care if "innovations" need not to necessarily be originated from the progress of science and technology when reading or listening to the "innovations policy." Having said this, whatever the exact meaning of "innovations" would be, no one could deny the importance of the progress of science and technology in generating innovations.
If the progress of science and technology is a key for innovations, I am wondering why the Japanese people do not seem to care so much about the performance of and the environment surrounding university although it must be a source of "innovations."
Since the fundamental reform made in the Japanese national university system in 2001, universities have been changing, changing quite rapidly. Besides, they have strong determination to change. Although there are still many adaptations to be made, the speed of their change is unprecedented, considering their past history of being unchanged which had lasted about 40 years after the university substantially strengthened its engineering wings in 1960s. Thanks to the new generation of presidents of university who have come after the 2001 reform, they have been making great efforts to devise new idea to change university so as to revitalize university's educational and research activities, exercising their enhanced power and discretional ability granted by the reform.
In making such autonomous renovation of university using such reinforced power and ability of presidents, one of the most important things for them is to keep and enhance dialog with the outside world. By having constant dialog with outside world, they should reflect on what sort of outcomes have been generated from action taken for the renovation. Furthermore, presidents of university should also examine what are uniqueness and /or weakness of their university and how their university would position in a total picture of the whole Japanese (or even world) universities. For presidents of university, this is not flattering attitude towards outside world. This is necessary for university to articulate their uniqueness of their educational and research activity and to demonstrate their traditional philosophy and backbone of university, which has been and needs to be preserved for long time, irrespective of ever changing outside environment.
Recently, the Japanese university has been facing at difficult business environment. Number of students has been decreasing and the amount of budget provided by the government has been decreasing. I have heard complaints from many university presidents saying that they have almost no way to initiate a new challenge under such severe conditions. In fact, there is a result of a study showing that research budget allocated by a university headquarters to its research units has already extremely decreased. More precisely speaking, the result shows that usable expense at a research unit per post-doctoral student or master student is only $100/month even in a resource-consuming engineering school of a university(*i).
I think that the university should make public their difficult situation and explain plainly their plan and actual efforts being made for amending and improving such condition to outside stakeholders. Of course the information to be opened for the public should not be selective but objective and comparable with the corresponding information of other universities so that those stakeholders can evaluate outcomes and progress of renovation being made in a university. In so doing, university will be able to carry on autonomous and independent renovations, since such university will be able to acquire public understanding on and support for the necessity of investment for their change.
At the same time, we, outside stakeholders including mass media, need to pay more attention on the difficulty being faced and efforts being made by university presidents, if we are to believe that university is the important source of innovations.
In this relation, it is worth knowing that Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has already built an institutional setting through which we can vitalize such dialog between outside stakeholders and university. This example can be seen in the press release on "General explanations on the financial sheets of national universities on 2005 fiscal year," dated 4 September 2006. This is as follows:
Attachments of the press release material, the table entitled "An example of use of the financial information by university" showed the data such as "Ratio of R&D expenditures to total business expenditures of a university," "Ratio of expenditures used for educational research to total business expenditures of a university," "Educational research expenditures per student," and "R&D expenditures per teaching staff (professor/assistant professor/lecturer)," for each university. In the table, universities were classified into 8 types depending on composition of departments and orientation of the universities (i.e. medical, engineering, general and educational, etc.) so that comparison between similar types of universities could easily be done. For students or other outside stakeholders, he/she would normally think that if we are to pay the same amount of tuition or to conclude a research contract, the more educational expenditures per student or R&D expenditures per teaching staff the better a university would be if this university is falling into the same classification category. When looking at these data, one can notice a little bit shocking and surprising facts: for example, the educational expenditures per student of Ochanomizu-Women's University were twice higher than that of Yokohama National University (OWU: \241k vs. YNU: \124k) and the R&D expenditures per teaching staff of Utsunomiya University were 2.5 times higher than that of Wakayama University (UU: \1,892k vs. WU: \758k), even though these universities are falling into the same classification category.
Perhaps it is not appropriate for me to state my preliminary interpretation on these figures since I am not in a position to explain this data nor I do not have sufficient information in understanding the cause of these differences, however, I guess that cause of the differences between universities in even a same classification category would be partly due to difference in the capacity of the number of students and teaching staff of departments consisting of those universities. Therefore, probably we need to carry out more careful analysis in understanding the differences if we are to draw any conclusion on the status and performance of university from them. Having said this, however, I would like to stress the importance of noticing such differences by looking at objective and comparable data covering all national universities. For a university, noticing the differences can be a start for their change. Recognizing how a university has been seen by stakeholders, perceiving what position the university has been placed in a total picture of the Japanese (or the world's) university map, or understanding what is the unique or poor aspects of the university in comparison with other universities, university presidents will be able to develop a better design for their renovation plan, to recognize an effective way to explain and promote them and to devise an attractive sales talk to stakeholders to acquire their support for and financial contribution to their university.
As I stated above, renovation of university has to be conducted in an autonomous and independent manner under the leadership of university presidents, but at the same time it has to be conducted having a close dialog with their stakeholders. As shown above, the environment for the dialog has already been set up by the MEXT if not perfect. Although there has been such environment, we, stakeholders of university, including mass media have not used the environment effectively. I think that this could be said as our negligence if we are to seriously think that innovations are of critical necessity for our future. At the same time, it is hoped that university presidents should not just complain decreasing budget for university or just voice up their demand for increase of the budget. Rather they should engage in more close and active dialog with outside stakeholders on the reality of educational and research activities in university and on progress status of the renovation plan to outside stakeholders.
(*i)"Study outcome on the status of the science and technology activities in the Japanese national universities," 27 October 2006, Science and Technology Policy Directorate, Cabinet Office. "Expenditures," here, does not include salary or other personnel expenses of teaching staff of university.