EDUCATIONAL RENAISSANCE / Efficiency monitors patrol Tokyo Univ.
Mina Matsumoto and Koichi Yasuda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
The following is an excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Educational Renaissance series. This part of the series, continuing from last week, focuses on the role of staff members at higher educational institutions.
In April, Tokyo University started a project called “3S.” The term refers to “slim” organizational structure, “smart” management and “speedy” operations. At the same time, the national university appointed Kazuhiro Ogoshi, 60, then head of the secretariat for undergraduate programs on engineering, to the position of associate managing director in charge of improving its administrative practices.
In mid-May, Ogoshi visited the office for postgraduate programs on engineering on the university’s Hongo Campus in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, during a tour to expose unproductive practices. He was accompanied by Prof. Katsuhiro Nishinari, 42, who is known for his research on how factories and companies can reduce waste.
Seeing the office was swamped with piles of documents, Ogoshi asked one staff member, “Isn’t it uncomfortable for you to work as a desk piled with papers?”
Nishinari followed this comment up with, “You’d be able to work faster if you put on your desk only the documents that you’ll need the same day.”
Ogoshi and Nishinari posed various other questions to the staff, such as whether it was really necessary for each person in the office to have their own telephone and whether they had considered setting specific times each day to check e-mails.
With about 9,000 faculty and staff members, Tokyo University has been forced to improve its administrative efficiency mainly because of a central government financial policy for higher education.
The central government grants national universities subsidies to cover their administrative costs, such as payroll and utility expenses. As part of the central government’s efforts to cut expenditures, it has been reducing the subsidies by 1 percent every year since 2004, when national universities became independent administrative institutions.
For the 2009 academic year, the government is granting a total of 1.17 trillion yen to the national universities to subsidize administrative costs, an 11.8 billion yen cut from the previous academic year. Tokyo University faces a 750 million yen cut.
So far, the institution has reduced its expenditures through various efforts: for example, paying public utility charges through automatic withdrawals and simplifying procedures for signing contracts with other entities. To help with these efforts, the university in April appointed Ogoshi and two other staff members associate managing directors–the first time staff members have been promoted to this position.
Ogoshi, who once worked at a technical college, had already come across what he regarded as unproductive administrative customs on the campus. He found that the faculty and staff held many long meetings without deciding anything, and lights were often left on even in areas where no people were working.
Probably because of such practices, Tokyo University as a whole emitted more than 160,000 tons of carbon dioxide during the 2007 academic year, according to the university. Its main Hongo Campus alone is one of the largest emitters of the gas among offices in Tokyo.
On the first day of their campus tour, Ogoshi and Nishinari visited five locations for two hours, during which they were able to identify some wasteful practices. For example, staff members tend to leave their computers on, meaning that even nonurgent e-mails are automatically received. At the same time, they have to prepare so many documents that it is often difficult for them to maintain a good overview of their own duties.
They also found there are some inefficiencies the institution could not solve on its own. One typical example is the preparation of documents on estimated costs for research for which a ministry has commissioned Tokyo University. Often, the same ministry has several different formats for such documents, causing the university to take an inordinate amount of time to complete them. Nevertheless, Ogoshi and Nishinari intend to focus initially on their own workplace.
According to the professor, if factories and companies aim to reduce as much waste as possible in their operations, it is essential that they specify their goals and the period needed to complete the reduction efforts.
Based on this principle, Ogoshi has set a target of “making Tokyo University one of the top institutions of higher education in the world in terms of administrative efficiency,” and he has set a period of one year to achieve this.
“What Todai has to do is not [merely] improve, but [dramatically] reform its systems,” Ogoshi emphasized, referring to Tokyo University by its common shortened version.
Yomiuri Shimbun (Jul. 16, 2009)