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Lecture by Professor Atsuko Toyama (Former Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) at the JSPS London Office 10th anniversary celebrations

4 June 04

Professor Atsuko Toyama delivers a lecture
Professor Atsuko Toyama delivers a lecture

��׶niversity Reforms in Japan to Usher in Century of Knowledge�ߡ�

Distinguished colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel most honored to have been invited to attend this tenth anniversary celebration of JSPS's London Office, and to have been given an opportunity to stand at this podium of the Royal Society and give a short speech to you today. I must confess that I have no record of achievement as a researcher. What, however, I believe does qualify me to stand in front of you is my long career, which began from a young age, as an administrator?one in which I was engaged in the promotion of scientific research for a period of more than ten years. During my tenure as the director at Ministry of Education, I visited both universities and research institutions in various parts of the UK. And also I have vivid memories of coming to this very place under the guidance of the late Lord Phillips of Ellesmere, who was vice-president of the Royal Society. During my term as the Minister, I came to London again to hold a meeting with Lord Sainsbury and exchange views with many leaders in the UK's scientific and academic communities. That time also, I had the chance to visit several universities and research institutions.

From my early days, I have considered scientific and academic exchange with the UK to be very important for Japan, particularly given the great many eminent scientists whom the UK has nurtured and the leading role your country has played in spurring the advancement of scientific and technological development worldwide.

It has been eight months now since I stepped down from the post as Minister. I am very pleased to have this opportunity to come to the UK again and meet with you, the researchers and administrators of both Japanese and UK universities.

For a two year and five month period, from April 2001 through September of last year, I served as the Minister and was engaged in a wide scope of fields, including education, science and technology, culture, and sports. Among them, I devoted myself most fully to educational reform. The reform we worked to advance was underpinned by the lofty principle of moving students across the spectrum of elementary, secondary and higher education from a posture of molded thinking and passiveness to one of self-initiative and creativity. Educators and administrators around Japan are now acting upon the foundations we laid.

Among our education reform efforts, it was the universities that I concentrated on most during my tenure as Minister. I wish, therefore, to take this opportunity to describe to you the state of university reform in Japan, as we are at an historical juncture in that process.

Compared to the long history and tradition of British universities, Japan's university system is still in its adolescence. It was after the opening of Japan that the first imperial university was established in 1886. Now over a century later, 2004 is a memorial year as it marks the greatest transitional point in university reform since the new university system was established in 1949 after the war.

Though British universities have a history and tradition of several centuries and have taken the world lead in academic achievement, I understand that a major reform is being undertaken on university management in this country. I believe the university reforms being taken in Japan are on par with those in 1992 that created a new university system in the UK.

[National University Reform and its Background]

In April of this year, a new national university corporation system was started in Japan. Last July, the Japanese Parliament enacted the National University Corporation Law. Under it, each Japanese national university was given a corporate status, as is the norm in other advanced nations. With this status, the universities are better able to give expression to their own independence and autonomy, offer excellent programs of education and research, contribute to society, and exercise their responsibility to the public. I am convinced that this system reform will give Japanese national universities the leeway to strengthen their international competitiveness, while establishing truly distinctive institutional cultures.

I understand that recently there was quite a controversy in your Parliament over a bill regarding tuition fees, and that it passed by only a narrow margin. In Japan too, there was a turbulent debate in the Parliament over the bill to reform the national universities. I can testify to this, as it was I who had to respond to heated questions and comments from the floor.

Though adjustments have been periodically made to the system, Japan's national universities have, since the time the first imperial university was founded, always been positioned as part of the administrative organization of the Ministry. National Universities have been regarded as national institutions, and their faculty as civil servants. Accompanying this status was a myriad of government-imposed restrictions. Centering on these issues, there has in fact been a long-running and multifaceted debate on giving the national universities an independent, corporate status.

At the end of the 20th century, what form university reform should take was debated in various government advisory bodies, particularly in the University Council established within the Ministry of Education. In the 1990s, university people and experts in the Council significantly advanced the dialogue on university reform across the spectrum of national, public and private universities. I was the director of the division in charge when the University Council was established in 1987. As the Director-General of the Higher Education Bureau from 1992 to 1994, I was able to follow up and support the university reform process. Nevertheless, in the 1990s, we had not yet advanced this process to a point where we had a system that could execute dramatic reforms.

On the other hand, around 1996 a movement toward administrative reform was intensifying within the government. Under it, steps were taken toward carrying out a reorganization of ministries and agencies and converting quasi-government organizations into independent administrative institutions. In this process, universities were not made an exception; their privatization or conversion to independent administrative institutions was taken up as a subject of discussion. Due, however, to the efforts of politicians and other authorities at the time, who took into account the unique characteristics of higher education institutions, the universities were not treated within the general context of administrative reform. Rather, as a link in the overall university reform process, it was thought that the national universities should be incorporated. In April 1999, a Cabinet decision set forth a clear posture in this direction. It constituted a major point of transition toward the incorporation of national universities. Thereafter, various discussions, including those of the Ministry's Study Team, comprising mainly university experts, were advanced on how the system of incorporation ought to be designed.

In considering this design, much reference was made to the structure of university reform being undertaken in the UK in the 1990s. In fact, it can be said that we took several components of the UK's approach and put them into our system design, particularly those that give universities large discretionary powers over their own management, establish a top-down system of management revolving around the university president, and have universities submit to the government a multi-year strategic plan, based on which they carry out their programs.

When I was the Minister, we had what was called a ��׬OIZUMI structural reform cabinet,�ߡ�which accelerated the reform process and created a new legal framework to accommodate it. Taking into full account the results of the discourse on university reform to date, I drafted a bill which was submitted to the Parliament amidst fierce parleying within the government and among the political parties. After long deliberations, the National University Corporation Law was enacted last summer finally.

I would like to turn now to some unique characteristics of Japanese universities, by comparing them with universities in the West. Though there is surprisingly little knowledge of this fact in Japan, among the countries of Europe, which are the birthplace of the university, it is the common perception that universities are ����ational.�ߡ�Accordingly, little if any tuition is charged. And, as in the case of England, any effort to raise tuition fees is treated as a political problem big enough to impact on the ruling administration. There is a deeply rooted belief that the cost of university education and research should be widely shouldered by the public, in the same way the costs of defense and diplomacy are.

Looking at Japan, there are currently about 700 4-year universities, of which over 70% are private. In this sense, Japanese universities are more privatized than other advanced nations. Though the overall ratio of national universities is 13%, and the ratio of their students is 20%, each however has its own function within the system. For example, not counting junior colleges, private 4-year universities alone number over 500. Seventy percent of them are concentrated in the three metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. On the other hand, 70% of the national universities have their campuses outside these metropolitan areas. This is because, being national universities, they are used to create a regional balance in the higher education system. Thus, their locations are established by law; or in other words, by government decision. If the national university system were to be abolished, many universities would vacate the outlying communities and concentrate themselves in the large metropolitan areas because of a rapid decrease in the number of college-age people.

The same holds true for maintaining a balance between academic fields. In the case of private universities, there is an extremely high ratio of courses offered in the humanities and social sciences vis-à-vis other disciplines. In operating these courses, the cost of labs and specialized faculty is much less than required for courses in the natural sciences. From a management standpoint, therefore, it is only natural that private universities should choose this option. If it were left to the private universities, however, I dread to think what would happen to the balance in academic disciplines at universities in Japan. This is why the national universities shoulder the lion's share of the science and engineering courses in Japan, though this fact is surprisingly not well known.

In sum, the Japanese university system is underpinned by the 500-plus private universities concentrated in metropolitan areas. Both their locations and course offerings are chosen based on market principles. On the other hand, the national universities, which number only 87 at present, play a vital role in adjusting various balances within Japan's university system. Additionally, the 76 public universities, established by local governments, enjoy popular support by the local people.

What we need to do now is to create a ����orps�ߡ�of universities at the world's highest standard of education and research, maximizing the attributes of Japan's unique higher education system.

[New System of National University Corporation]

I would now like to describe for you what was entailed in the incorporation of national universities. In response to such a question, I offered the following explanation in the Parliament deliberations: ��׵he purpose of incorporating national universities, currently positioned as government institutions, is to sever them from the government so that they can conduct their activities in an autonomous environment, allowing them to aggressively pursue excellent education and uniquely differentiated research programs. In this way, richly distinctive, highly appealing national universities can be realized.�ߡ�This I believe to be the essence of ����eform.�ߡ�If it is not accomplished, there would be no meaning, either then or now, in incorporating the national universities.

Stating it in different terms, national universities, which were established by law, are ultimately the responsibility of the state. This includes their funding. Therefore, without compromising their basic nature as national universities, incorporation seeks, in a bold manner, to redefine the mode of communication between them and the government as well as the approach to university management. In this way, incorporation is meant to realize an autonomous, highly strategic form of university management. It can, therefore, be termed ����anagement reform�ߡ�of national universities.

When the bill was being debated in the Parliament, there were those who questioned whether drafting mid-term objectives and conducting performance evaluations wouldn't in fact strengthen the participation of the government in university affairs, thus infringing upon their academic freedom. It is my belief, however, that, to begin with, the constitutional guarantee of academic freedom is that researchers are allowed to freely choose their research themes and to report the results of their work. In this regard, I do not consider university incorporation to violate in any way academic freedom. Quite to the contrary, as it acts to innervate the primary function of education and research, I am convinced that, even more than before, such reform strengthens university autonomy.

In the process of designing the system, a number of university administrators and faculty members were more concerned about the budgets allotted to universities under the new reforms. They questioned whether the shift from the Ministry's special account budget for national educational institutions to the government's operational grants as the universities' source of revenue wouldn't limit the amount of funding for education and research vis-à-vis the past. It turns out, however, that at least as much funding was provided for national universities in the government's FY 2004 budget as was in the previous year. The government will need to give more consideration to the university funding system in the future. In any case, it is the duty of the government to expand competitive and other funding in support of research. It will also be necessary to supply funds in support of basic research activities.

Among the plans undertaken for university reform while I was the Minister, national university incorporation was the most important in content. At the same time, it promises to have the greatest impact on determining the state of Japanese universities in the future.

Concurrently, a move is at foot and a legal system has been framed, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Public Management to incorporate Japan's public universities. As the private universities also become caught up in this flow, the early years of the 21st century promise to offer a new start for Japan's universities.

[Three Other Reforms]

(1) Enhancing University Competitiveness

Incorporation of the national universities was the first pillar in the overall university reform policy we undertook. Various other measures were taken in parallel with it. They applied to all universities, without distinction as to whether they are national, public or private. Among these, I would like to describe the three main reforms.

The first was to create a favorable competitive environment for Japanese universities. While maintaining a sound rivalry among the universities, steps needed to be taken to overcome their ����rotected convoy�ߡ�mentality and, though belatedly, to strengthen their international competitiveness. In the summer of 2001, the Ministry of Education and Science launched a new program aimed at creating research hubs of the world's highest standard in Japanese universities. This initiative, called the �ߡ�1st Century COE Program,�ߡ�is directed mainly at doctoral programs in graduate schools. Grant applications are openly solicited and screened by third parties. And funding is awarded to support prioritized fields of research. This program has attracted unusually high interest from a broad cross-section of Japanese society.

I understand that the UK has a system for providing tiered funding to universities that carry out outstanding research activities. Though the 21st Century COE Program differs somewhat in methodology, what it has in common with your program is that it supplies prioritized funding to support leading research in an enhanced competitive environment.

Concretely, ten research categories are covered under the program. Each year, applications are solicited for five of them. The selected projects are supported by a 5-year grant from the government. At the same time, the university itself is expected to give full support to the project. That is, the program makes prioritized investments in creating excellent research hubs that will become centers of excellence within the international academic community.

In FY 2002, 464 grant applications were received, among which 113 were selected. Then in FY 2003, 611 applications were received, and 133 were selected. Altogether, grants have so far been given to 246 COE projects at 78 universities. Considerable attention was given to the selection results both by the universities that were and were not selected and also by the mass media.

Considering it desirable for a third-party organization to carry out the evaluations of the applying universities and their scientific proposals, rather than having the bureaucracy directly involved in the screening, I asked the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science to take charge of the process. JSPS requested Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Leo Esaki to head the program's screening committee.

Looking at the selection results, a great many of the COE grants were awarded to the large traditional universities, which have over long years invested considerable energy into establishing graduate programs. It is my impression, however, that many small universities, outlying universities and new universities were given more consideration than would have been expected prior to their application screening. Looking over the selection documentation, I was impressed with the reach and depth of Japan's universities. Being a person who was involved in university reform over many years, I must say I am very pleased with this outcome.

Incidentally, critique of the COE selections produced another unexpected result: It spurred strategic discussions led by university presidents. Crossing fences erected between faculties and research departments, these discussions encompassed the whole university.

Under the program, it is the university president who submits the grant application, which states the field the university wants to focus upon. Preparing the application gives the university an opportunity to consider the kind of internal support and external cooperative systems it needs. In any case, it offers various departments and organizations a chance to participate in designing the university's strategy. This process is seen to be very effective in vitalizing the universities.

As this program is still relatively new, there is room for improving and enhancing it. Nevertheless, the program will act to create campus-wide systems of cooperation in each university, which, along with the vitalization they engender, are expected to contribute to the formation of ����nowledge�ߡ�centers in Japan.

Another dramatic reform made in university education was the initiation of the Professional Graduate Schools system. The law was amended last June to introduce the program, which was launched in FY 2004. Effort by Japanese universities to foster highly specialized professionals has been inadequate in the past. This program seeks to strengthen that effort. The program began as a priority initiative by the government to reform the country's juridical system through the establishment of law schools. However, the Ministry of Education and Science saw this program as being an opportunity to reform the system for professional training in universities. The program, therefore, quickly exerted an impact, not only on law schools, but on other disciplines as well.

(2)University Assessment

With regard to the second of the reforms, I would like to tell you about a new development in university assessment. Japan has lacked a climate conducive to conducting general assessments on the condition of organizations. Up until very recently, it was thought that evaluating universities would be difficult, and that such evaluations neither can nor should be attempted. This has been the conventional thinking with regard to university assessment.

In the 1990's, many universities introduced ����elf-inspections and self-evaluations.�ߡ�It should be noted, however, that this was a system for universities to exercise their autonomy in improving the quality of their programs, not one to guarantee the quality.

At the same time, another movement was afoot outside the university. In December 2001, the government's Council for Regulatory Reform issued a report on advancing regulatory reform that included a part on universities. This set in motion a move toward ����egulatory reform�ߡ�in the implementation of the government's top-priority structural reform policy. Concomitantly, it had the effect of merging such university reform issues as ����niversity assessment�ߡ�and ����overnment permission of establishment of university/department�ߡ�into the ����egulatory reform�ߡ�discourse. However, if this discussion on reform were to be advanced from strictly a regulatory viewpoint, I feared it could create a situation that might inhibit the establishment of a system to guarantee the quality of Japanese universities. Accordingly, University Subcommittee of the ministry's Central Council for Education stepped up the pace at which it was examining the university assessment issue.

Taking into account the views issued by the subcommittee, legal reforms were enacted in 2002, which made the system for establishing departments more flexible: Under certain conditions, now all a university has to do is to submit a notification. Concurrently, a third-party evaluation system was also introduced. In prescribed periods within the next seven years, national, public and private universities are all to receive evaluations by an assessment organization certified as qualified by the government. The universities are also to publicly release those evaluation results. Under this system, the evaluation results are not used to determine funding allocations or to suspend authorization to establish departments. Rather, they are to prompt self-improvement on the part of the university so that it can obtain better results in the future.

They also provide reference to various individuals and entities in society who are looking to ����hoose�ߡ�a university. In such ways, the evaluation results serve to improve the quality of universities. The important thing is that these evaluations are conducted independently by universities, not by the government and not based on market principles.

The introduction of the third-party evaluation system, along with the 21st Century COE Program, constitutes a very big step forward in the history of university assessment in Japan. Looking back, it was a milestone that we just barely managed to achieve through a concentrated effort over a very short period of time. It involved listening to and compiling a myriad of views, including those to proceed cautiously; and, despite outside pressure to the contrary, enacting legal reform in a direction that would be acceptable to university administrators and faculty. Thus, seizing the moment, we succeeded in putting in place a properly directed reform policy on university assessment. Also, given international trends in university assessment, Japan was at the time in a situation in which it couldn't wait any longer to introduce its own system

(3)The University's Third Mission

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Now I'd like to move to the last of the three new reforms: The university's third mission, contribution to society. Necessary steps have been taken to establish a clear direction for universities with respect to this mission, and to move them along that path.

Traditionally, education and research have been the primary missions of university. As social conditions change, however, the role universities are expected to play is undergoing a radical transition.

Needless to say, the university's conventional functions of education and research contribute over the long run to the development of the nation and society. In recent years, however, expectations have been placed on universities to contribute to society in a more direct manner. This includes the commercialization of their research results, the transfer of their technology, and their holding of public lectures.

I hear in the UK that, in parallel with education and research, universities consider it their mission to contribute to the community through such means as technology transfer to small and medium companies and the development of local human resources. In Japan as well, the same sort of social contributions have come to be viewed as the university's third mission recently.

In the case of societal contributions by universities, they should not be limited to economic vitalization. Rather, they should be meaningful to society as a whole, including local communities. And they should include within their scope welfare, the environment and other social issues. That is, they should contribute to local society, economic society and international society. Universities have a special obligation to make intellectual contributions to their surrounding communities by such means as providing educational opportunities for members of the community and by conducting international education exchanges and joint research activities.

Particularly over recent years, there has been significant progress in technology transfer and new business start-ups through collaboration between universities, industry, and government. For universities, this has become an important form of societal contribution. While such programs are being incorporated within the management strategies of universities, there is an increasing need by the economic sector, including companies, to utilize the universities' intellectual assets.

The pursuit of this ����hird mission�ߡ�will at the same time exert a positive influence on both education and research, which are the primary mission of universities.

As the industrial sector is also voicing a strong interest in collaboration with universities, I have high expectations for the future of university-industry cooperation in Japan.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I have mentioned, the reform of Japanese universities has got off to a good start at the beginning of the 21st century. National, public and private universities alike are earnestly in search of their own new institutional image and identity and have begun to take steps in that direction. In the difficult environment of declining birth rates which Japan faces, each university will stake its very existence on reform; the degree of quality with which they are able to carry out their programs of research, education and social contribution will test the very worth of their administration and faculty.

A framework for reform has been established. However, the extent to which true reform is realized will, of course, depend upon the will of university administrators and faculty to change their perceptions and practices.

I suppose that it may be difficult to recycle old wineskins so that they can hold new wine. That is, it may be an easier task to build new universities than to reform old ones. Nevertheless, I place my faith in the capacity of university administrators and faculty. While cheering them on, I will keep a close eye on how university reform progresses. As a person who advanced the reform process, I feel an obligation to continue offering advice to the government in support of efforts being taken by the universities.

In this more competitive environment brought about by university reform, it is both predicted and anticipated that each university will more actively work to internationalize its programs by undertaking joint research activities and researcher exchanges with other countries. From this point of view, JSPS's London Office becomes all the more important, especially given the role it plays as a base for scientific and academic exchange between Japan and the UK.

The distinguished English physicist Michael Faraday gave what is now a classic Christmas lecture in 1861 on ��׵he Chemical History of a Candle.�ߡ�In it he said ��׵he candle alone shines by itself and for itself, or for those who have arranged the materials.�ߡ�I have modified his words slightly to say ��״cience alone shines by itself and for itself, or for those who pursue it.�ߡ�Here, the word science may be substituted with ����niversity.�ߡ�Whether in the UK or Japan, I look forward to the development of the university and to the advancement of science that springs from the knowledge base that the university provides. Through friendly rivalry and cooperation between the universities of our two countries, I expect to see the shining light of science grow even brighter, accruing to the benefit of our two peoples and all of humankind.

To achieve this lofty goal, it will be incumbent on JSPS's London Office to promote even more vigorously than in the past scientific and academic exchange between Japan and the UK. I look forward to the Office energetically carrying out this mission and becoming a bridge over which the knowledge and wisdom of our two countries will meet and merge.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.


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