Specialists in research administration are employed by Japanese universities with the aim of creating an environment in which researchers can focus on their research, which in turn stimulates and increases the quality of the research carried out at the institution. Research administrators in Japan are known as URAs, short for University Research Administrators. As research development professionals, they support all stages of the academic research process.
At the University of Tokyo, a URA is someone with a high level of expertise and the aim of driving academic research in a stable and sustainable manner by advancing a wide variety of research-related activities. They are able to carry out the following tasks on their own initiative:
URAs at the University of Tokyo are equipped with a good balance of the skills needed to advance a wide variety of research-related activities, namely a broad perspective, a high level of expertise, and the ability to show initiative. They effectively use and combine these skills to drive research at the university.
With the aim of securing and training excellent URAs, the University of Tokyo introduced a URA certification process in 2016. Through this process, faculty and staff from within the university who meet the criteria in the definition given above are certified by the president of the university as UTokyo URAs in categories appropriate to their skills and experience.
After certification, the faculty or staff member may use the title “UTokyo URA” and they continue to work in the same department. Unlike at many Japanese universities, UTokyo URAs are not concentrated in the Central Administration Office, but instead work in the Faculties, Graduate Schools, and Institutes. This allows them to work more closely with researchers and engage more flexibly in research development. We aim to build a comprehensive and sophisticated team of URAs who are experts not only in research development, but also in a variety of academic fields.
Because URAs at the University of Tokyo do not belong to a single organization, but instead work in different departments with a wide variety of job titles, professional development is mainly carried out on the job. However, practical and awareness-based training is also offered.
URAs support all stages of the research process and help to stimulate and increase the quality of academic research.The URA Skills Standard(commissioned by MEXT) divides their work into three groups of core tasks and a fourth group of related specialist tasks.
As shown in the following table, the tasks carried out by URAs can be summarized in 22 categories. These are divided into (1) Promotion and Support of Research Strategy (3 categories), which involve the analysis of Japan’s science and technology policies and monitoring the university’s research resources; (2) Pre-award Activities (5 categories), which cover planning, designing, and coordinating projects, and applying for funding; (3) Post-award Activities (5 categories), which concern the management of a project after it has been selected for funding; and (4) Specialist Activities (9 categories), which are related to each of the three core groups above but are comparatively specialist in nature.
In recent years, the work of URAs has diversified and now includes tasks not mentioned in the URA Skills Standard, for example institutional research and organizational management.
Source: Report on the MEXT project, “Establishment of Systems to Foster and Secure University Research Administrators” (Creating a Skills Standard) (in Japanese)
(1) Promotion and Support of Research Strategy
Collecting information on government science and technology policies, council policy reports and recommendations, and funding agency projects at all stages of their development.
Analyzing policy trends related to the above.
Strengthening the ability of the university to analyze policy information by maintaining databases of the above information and enhancing capabilities in information analysis.
Assessing the scientific fields, external funding, and academic publications of the university’s researchers.
Mapping the above information to analyze the features of the research being carried out at the university.
Strengthening the ability of the university to analyze research capability by maintaining databases of researcher information and enhancing foundations for the development of research projects.
Planning and supporting organizational restructuring and the construction of research institutions and research-support systems.
Coordinating with relevant Faculties, Graduate Schools, and Institutes to effectively use the university’s research and education resources for the above.
Helping researchers to improve their understanding of each other’s work and establish presence, for example, by holding workshops to uncover new research challenges.
(2) Pre-award Activities
Analyzing external funding obtained by the university with respect to that obtained by other institutions.
Analyzing the selection results of external funding calls.
Supporting the development of research proposals and the selection of team members for external funding applications.
Collecting information on funding and projects offered by domestic and international governments, funding agencies, and companies at all stages of their development.
Analyzing the application details, eligibility, and other requirements for external funding applications.
Monitoring related policy trends and analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of obtaining external funding.
Providing information on external funding to researchers working in relevant fields and with the appropriate level of experience.
Coordinating with the relevant offices regarding the acceptance of external funding, securing of research resources, and signing of contracts with collaborating institutions.
Negotiating with researchers and Graduate Schools within the university regarding their participation in the research project.
Holding internal hearings to confirm that the number of applications for large-scale projects does not exceed the maximum allowed in the application requirements and making adjustments as necessary.
Negotiating with external researchers and research institutions regarding their participation in the research project.
Coordinating with collaborating institutions regarding the acceptance of external funding, project plans, and contracts, including non-disclosure agreements.
Organizing researchers’ ideas, collecting the necessary data, and writing parts or a draft of the research proposal and budget plan for external funding applications.
Editing the application form, giving advice on improvements, and ensuring that the format and content comply with the application guidelines.
Preparing or supporting the preparation of presentation materials for the hearing.
Holding guidance seminars on the preparation of application and presentation materials.
(3) Post-award Activities
Coordinating with the funding agency regarding the research proposal, budget, and proportion of overhead costs when a project is selected for external funding.
Preparing detailed research and budget plans.
Organizing project management meetings and research team meetings.
Monitoring the progress of research projects, including that of each team’s research.
Monitoring research project outputs, including journal articles, presentations at conferences, and patent applications.
Coordinating the allocation of the budget among internal and external collaborators.
Monitoring expenditure and confirming that funding is used in accordance with the research proposal and legal requirements.
Working with office staff to respond to internal audits and inspections to determine external funding amounts.
Identifying equipment that meets the necessary specifications for the research.
Preparing specification documents and coordinating with manufacturers and the accounting team to procure equipment.
Preparing or supporting the preparation of reports and presentation materials for evaluations by the funding agency.
Attending hearings for the above evaluations.
Organizing independent reviews for research projects.
Organizing research results and coordinating the preparation of reports by preparing drafts or bringing together content written by researchers.
Editing reports, giving advice on improvements, and ensuring that the report complies with the research proposal.
(4) Specialist Activities
Supporting partnerships related to graduate education, for example, the establishment of research and education centers and joint graduate schools.
Understanding government and university policies on graduate education.
Organizing the above partnerships on the basis of research.
Coordinating with internal and external parties and working with faculty and office staff to set up detailed protocols related to the above partnerships.
Promoting partnerships with overseas institutions and establishing international consortia for education and research.
Monitoring international trends in education and research and preparing explanatory materials to promote the above.
Coordinating contracts and organizing signing ceremonies and other on-site events related to the above in collaboration with faculty and office staff.
Supporting international research collaborations by inviting and coordinating the visits of international researchers.
Supporting the formation of partnerships and consortia with local industry, including those at the organizational level; three-way partnerships involving industry, academia, and government; and those for regional development.
Focusing research projects carried out by the above partnerships through negotiation and mediation between researchers and companies.
Collaborating with industry to support large-scale and long-term projects involving multiple parties.
Cooperating with internal departments to determine the scope of the invention and examine and prepare patent statements.
Negotiating with industry when submitting joint patent applications.
Proposing appropriate ways to handle intellectual property in special programs, such as consortia involving industry, academia, and government and special zone initiatives.
Supporting the preparation of research-related statements released by the university.
Participating in research-related PR activities to increase the strength of the university brand and the university’s ability to disseminate information to external researchers and stakeholders.
Planning, designing, managing, and updating online content.
Planning and creating PR materials, such as newsletters and pamphlets, including those for an international audience.
Making arrangements for press releases and responding to requests for interviews.
Preparing and giving research-related presentations in research meetings and public seminars.
Reporting on seminars and creating networks of attendees.
Planning and organizing symposia and other events by creating the program, selecting and inviting presenters, and coordinating with staff and event management companies.
Publicizing events in a manner appropriate for the target audience.
Managing the preparations and running the event.
Coordinating with internal departments to confirm compliance with regulations related to chemical handling, genetically modified animals and plants, pathogens, radiation, and other hazards, and carrying out regular inspections regarding their use.
Preparing the necessary application documents for storage and experiments involving the above.
Responding internally and externally in the event of a health and safety incident.
Keeping track of participants and preparing plans for overseas fieldwork, and overseeing enrollment in insurance.
Coordinating with internal departments regarding conflicts of interest, the handling of intellectual property and research results, and the management of personal information collected for research purposes.
Providing advice and information on ethics and compliance issues.
Responding internally and externally in the event of an ethics infringement.