Yasu Direct Mail Magazine

Yasu Direct Mail Magazine

Final words on the conclusion of my term as president

[Yasu Direct Mail Magazine] will be distributed by Yasunobu (Yasu) Okada, the President of SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies) directly to all SOKENDAI students to convey his "hot message".

The primary aim of this Magazine is to develop the understanding for SOKENDAI's exist condition including the improvement of university management, innovation, and inspiration for the expanding the education and research, intelligibly.

We hope all of you will be encouraged by this [Yasu Direct Mail Magazine].

Yasu Direct Mail Magazine No. 12 (February 27, 2017)

Time flies as they say, and my three-year term as president is fast coming to an end. I did my very best to implement reforms that would make this university one that all students, current and former, can feel proud. As a result, SOKENDAI earned a "making steady progress toward achieving the mid-term plan" rating in all four categories of the evaluation conducted last year by the National University Corporation Evaluation Committee, which evaluated national university corporations on their performance in fiscal 2015 and during the second mid-term objectives period. Moreover, SOKENDAI was ranked third among 15 universities in Assistance Framework 2 (Note 1) in terms of functional strengthening activities in the first year of the third mid-term objectives period, which began last fiscal year; these evaluation results served as the basis of evaluations of functional strengthening promotion expense in the fiscal 2017 budgetary request, and earned us an increase in our budget for the next fiscal year. I aspired to even greater reform, and, though these efforts were inadequate in the face of various problems and insufficiency in human environment, I do believe I was able to point the university in a clear direction of change. The rest I leave up to the next administration to accomplish.

But I must say, Hayama's natural environment was marvelous. It was a great pleasure to drive and commute within sight of the trees and flowers of Shonan Village and Mt. Fuji across the water, while listening Tsuyoshi Yamamoto's piano jazz.

Photo 1

For me these three years were also an opportunity to witness the tragic state many of Japan's national universities are now in. The national government has conducted a grand "experiment" of reducing operational expense subsidies to national universities by 1% every year for the twelve years since they were incorporated in 2004. I will refrain from listing here the many adverse impacts resulting from that decision, but the most striking example as it relates to the future of our students is the change in positions for young researchers and faculty. While roughly 17,000 young researchers and faculty members work at national universities in Japan, in the last decade some 4,000 of those posts have changed from permanent to temporary contracts. In other words, whereas more than 63% of posts lacked a fixed term in 2007, that number fell to less than 36% in 2016, completely flipping the ratio. The results of this "experiment" must be made entirely clear, sufficiently analyzed, and put to good use in the future administration of academics, science/technology and other higher education. In my recent discussion (Note 2: Photo 1) with Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi (professor emeritus of our university), winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, he stated, "We must do something to break out of these uncertain circumstances," expressing in a soft but fervent tone a strong resolve to do better, if not as part of our responsibility as senior leaders.

The uncertainty of your place in society after graduation is, I'm sure, a great concern for all our students, but I would encourage you to persevere and stick to your original ambitions. Actually, Professor Ohsumi and I both took to the research path without a clear outlook on our futures. In fact, I spent the first four years after university graduation in an unpaid research position without any scholarship or grant and while already with family. But at that time there was a general feeling throughout society that you would get somewhere as long as you worked hard, so it did not seem to worry me. That is a major difference from today. We must change the circumstances into ones in which hard work always pays off. Although I will be leaving Hayama and taking a different position as of the end of this March, I plan to continue making my own efforts to that end.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to ask a request of our faculty. SOKENDAI students are like "golden eggs": young people with extraordinary value and potential who, in some form or other, will inherit our university and be the bearers of our future academics and our country. I ask that you take great care of these eggs, for your own future as well. Please also make efforts to strengthen SOKENDAI's brand power. I personally believe that pursuing a path of close collaboration and even integration with the Inter-University Research Institute Corporations is best for developing a truly extraordinary educational and research environment.


Photo 2

And in closing, I have thought of various parting words to give to our current students, but there are none better than the eight points made by Prof. Ohsumi under the heading "My Thoughts: Message to Young Researchers" in the last slide of his recent lecture in Okazaki (Note 3: Photo 2). With his permission, I quote them here:

  1. Think within the long span of human history
  2. Value your interests and suspicions
  3. Cherish the small discoveries you make. Start from nature and phenomena, not from research papers and the endless supply of information
  4. Identify long-term as well as short-term problems
  5. Refrain from following trends. Competition is not the only driver of science.
  6. Do not fear being different, but find your own path.
  7. Think deeply on what it means to be "useful"
  8. Cultivate as many fans of your research around you as much possible

I look forward to seeing you all again someday succeeding in your respective spheres of activity.

Note 1: Last fiscal year a new "functional strengthening promotion" expense was created as a category for allocating budgets to national universities in Japan. Under this system, each university falls under one of three frameworks for receiving major assistance for important policy initiatives: 1) promotion of community service, 2) promotion of research specialization, or 3) generation of outstanding achievements in research and education. This creates variability in the budgets allocated to universities based on evaluation of their respective plans for functional strengthening.

Note 2: Discussion with Professor Ohsumi held on the Tokyo Institute of Technology's Suzukakedai Campus on February 6, 2017. An article detailing the discussion will be posted on the SOKENDAI and Japan Association of National Universities websites in the near future.

Note 3: Lecture commemorating Yoshinori Ohsumi, professor emeritus of the National Institute for Basic Biology, for being awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, held at the Okazaki Shiminkaikan Aoi Hall on February 11, 2017 (hosted by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences, Okazaki City, Okazaki City Board of Education, and SOKENDAI).