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80% of university faculty members "lack time for research" — Organizations unable to respond to increased administrative workloads


There is not enough time for research—this has long been pointed out as a direct cause of the decline in Japan's research capabilities. Although measures have been taken by the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (CSTI) and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), there have been no signs of improvement. In this context, the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) has investigated the structure of the causes and effects of the lack of research time as well as their correlations based on its annual fixed-point survey. The results are expected to provide insights for each university and research institute to recognize areas that are weak or lacking on their own.

NISTEP's fixed point survey is an ongoing survey of the attitudes of approximately 2,200 researchers and experts engaged in front-line research and development to ascertain the current status of science, technology and innovation. This is the third time the survey has been conducted during the 6th Science, Technology and Innovation Plan. The survey was conducted between September and December last year, with a response rate of 88.3%. The results continued to show a poor perception of the research environment, including issues relating to the low number of doctoral students with desirable skills and the lack of availability of basic funding, research hours, academic and basic research and government research funding management.

However, there were also positive comments regarding initiatives such as the Support for Pioneering Research Initiated by the Next Generation (SPRING) program, which supports doctoral students, and emergent research support programs, as well as signs of improvement in some departments. In particular, the situation regarding research time continues to be very difficult. In fact, about 80% of university faculty members feel that they have less time for research than ideal; as a result, they sacrifice work related to their research activities. Specifically, 39% of the researchers sacrificed the preparation and publication of papers and other results, while 31% sacrificed their time allocated for conducting experiments and analysis, 31% for conceiving their research and gathering necessary information, 27% for acquiring new knowledge and skills, 21% for obtaining research funding, and 21% for providing research guidance for students. In this context, the results suggested the existence of structural issues, such as an increase in the workload of university faculty members because of a shortage of human resources and research funds, diversification of entrance examinations, and increased administrative work.

As organizational- and policy-level solutions, opinions have been expressed for expanding basic funding, building consensus on the importance of research and promoting reforms based on this consensus and shifting away from cumbersome management policies to avoid errors (e.g., reexamining the balance between fraud prevention and penalties). However, the feeling on the ground is that organizations have not been able to respond adequately.

Looking at the percentage of faculty members (Natural Sciences) who felt that their organization had not been able to respond appropriately even though it could have taken measures to improve efficiency, the following categories were selected: meetings and work for organizational management (77%), preparation and implementation of lectures and practical training (68%), university entrance examination work (62%), job-related procedures (60%), preparing applications to obtain research funding (59%) and dealing with students outside of lectures (50%). Meanwhile, those working in university management felt that they had not been able to do so in the following areas: allowing faculty to focus on research in obtaining Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research, etc. (46%), reducing and leveling the burden of university entrance examinations (40%) and simplifying procedures for faculty members in their duties (34%).

The survey also asked about mandatory open access to articles; however, it became clear that approximately 60% of the researchers and 30% of management were not aware of this. In addition to financial measures and the establishment of platforms, public awareness activities are also insufficient.

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd. ( Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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