The past three years has seen a rapid growth in the number of university research administrators (URAs) in Japan. Nationwide there are now more than 300 officially hired in this category. The Japanese government's decision to launch the URA project dates back to November 2009, when the Democratic Party of Japan, in power at the time, executed an unprecedented budget screening process for fiscal 2010. This screening was open to the public and televised live, resulting in major cuts in science and technology budgets, especially for the basic science. The criticism was leveled that investment in basic science was not able to show concrete results for the money spent to date. Basic science was an easy target for a government strongly insistent on a demonstration of the necessity for such research.
To address these concerns, on November 24, 2009, nine research intensive universities (Hokkaido, Tohoku, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kyushu, Waseda, and Keio) announced a joint statement "Concerns about the future of education and research in universities" in which they argued that a dramatic decrease in the education and research budget would be extremely harmful for the future of Japan (RU11, 2009). Successively, on March 19, 2010, another joint statement "strengthening research infrastructure and development of human resources in universities as part of the nation's growth strategy" was published (RU11, 2010). Notably, this statement clearly indicated the necessity for designated "research administrators" able to support research and facilitate collaboration among researchers. Later, the University of Tsukuba and Tokyo Institute of Technology joined this consortium and a group of eleven universities formed the influential academic consortium "RU11" (http://www.ru11.jp/eng/).
Following this joint statement proposing a novel system of university research administration, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) launched such a program in FY2011. Kyoto University applied to the program and five universities including Kyoto were appointed as model universities. In FY2012, ten universities were additionally appointed and fifteen universities in total started implementing the URA system.
Initiation of the KURA office
In January 2012, a task force at Kyoto University prepared a master plan to introduce the URA system and scheduled recruitment interviews. In April, eight total (three as senior administrators) were hired by the new central administration office of Kyoto University Research Administration, called KURA (http://www.kura.kyoto-u.ac.jp/en/).
Prior to the introduction of KURA, interaction between researchers and administrative staff mostly occurred at a single point at the end--to complete paperwork. This is because, in general, administrative staff did not have strong research experience, so from the researcher's view point, administrative staff did not have the expertise that researchers would want to consult with about research-related issues. At KURA office there was an explicit goal of hiring administrators with a research background. Thus, two senior URAs had worked for Kyoto University as professors in civil engineering and area studies, respectively; one senior URA with Ph.D. in pharmacy had worked as a director of research laboratories at a pharmaceutical company; and the remainder held Ph.D. such that, their specialties covered a wide range of research disciplines such as system neuroscience, developmental biology, agricultural studies, psychology, informatics, energy science, research ethics, science communication. The existing administrative system worked mostly complimentarily with KURA to support the research faculty. KURA staff performed both research development and general administrative tasks depending on the workload assigned to each member, whereas research development lay outside the existing administrative staffs' charge. The fact that all the KURA members had in depth experience in research was an important feature which distinguished the KURA from the administrative offices who had been organized at Kyoto University, in the sense that the KURA staffs work closer to researchers. It also facilitated communication between researchers and staff at the KURA office (Figure 1)
Job expectations for Japanese URAs depend greatly on the needs of their hiring universities...