In 2004, the incorporation of national universities drastically changed the environment surrounding public universities in Japan. The incorporation brought a wide range of new issues they had to respond to: reforming their management and governance, fostering highly competent researchers through academic and other trainings, obtaining external funding, implementing large-scale research, promoting industry-academia-government collaborations, and competing in the global academic world. Under these circumstances, the Consortium of Research Universities (RU11*) organized the Roundtable Meeting of Executive-Vice Presidents and Vice Presidents for Research in May 2009. Their proposal raised the issues of training and securing research administrators (URAs), the professionals who can enhance research capabilities by assisting researchers apply for competitive funds and manage research projects. The Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) launched the project, titled “Development Project to Foster and Secure Research Administrators” in 2011. Selected for this subsidized project, Kyoto University established the Research Administration Office (KURA) consisting of eight URAs as of April 1, 2012. In the following year 2013, Departmental URA organizations were established in eight campus areas as self-initiated project of Kyoto University.
Furthermore, the 4th Science and Technology Basic Plan, which started in 2011, pointed out the declining research capabilities of Japanese universities in the global academia. In response, the MEXT launched the “Project to Strengthen and Promote Research Universities” in 2013. The project supported initiatives of selected research universities to strengthen their research capabilities in combination of two actions: securing URAs and reforming research environment. In 2016, with the aim of reinforcing information sharing among URAs, KURA and departmental URAs were merged to form the new Research Administration Office (KURA). And in October 2022, to further strengthening “research competency” targeting researchers of various generations, genders, nationalities, and fields at Kyoto University, the research support system was reorganized and its functions expanded into the Kyoto University Research Administration Center (KURA).Currently, there are about 40 URAs working in KURA. Their duties are promoting and supporting the Kyoto University’s research capabilities, improving the research environment, planning and formulating management strategies, promoting international research, and enhancing collaborations among the industry, academia, and government.
※RU11（Research University 11）: The Consortium was established with the aim of promoting policy-oriented discussions among research universities. It was launched in November 2009 with nine universities (Hokkaido University, Tohoku University, the University of Tokyo, Waseda University, Keio University, Nagoya University, Kyoto University, Osaka University, and Kyushu University). With the addition of the University of Tsukuba and Tokyo Institute of Technology in August 2010, the consortium currently consists of 11 universities.
In a broader sense, URAs refer to “professional administrators who can understand academic disciplines and make full use of their own expertise without sectionalized biases, actively and creatively engage in a variety of research-related activities, and vitalize activities of researchers or research groups while overseeing the entire organization of a university and strengthening its functions with a bird’s-eye view.” In other words, they are specialists who play a critical role in planning and managing research activities and utilizing research results, in cooperation with researchers and other administrative staff, in order to strengthen the research capabilities of universities.
The duties of URAs are described in the MEXT’s “Development Project to Foster and Secure Research Administrators” (formulation of standard skills for URAs) as the followings:
(1) Formulation and promotion of research strategies (analysis of research capabilities, formulation of research strategies, etc.)
(2) Pre-award services (support for planning and designing research projects, collecting information on external funds, preparing application documents, etc.)
(3) Post-award services (negotiation and coordination with external actors to launch research projects, management of research progress, preparation for external reviews on research projects, etc.)
(4) Other specialized duties (support for international affairs, academia-industry collaborations, public relations, research ethics and compliances, etc.)
However, there are differences in what roles URAs play at each university, depending on the needs and expectations of the university.