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NatureInterface > No.08 > P008-011 [Japanese]

The Environmental Point of View Changes Education and Business -- Nobuo Saito + Kiyoshi Itao

The Environmental Point of View Changes Education and Business


Interviewer: KIYOSHI ITAO

The Faculty of Environmental Information, Which Extended the Range of Education

ITAO: In the latter half of the 1980s, Keio University established the Faculty of Environmental Information, which gave an impact to the world. And you were appointed the second dean of this faculty. First of all, would you explain the concept behind the faculty?

SAITO: It originates in the idea of Professor Tadao Ishikawa, former president of Keio University and chairman of the Central Education Council. He was well aware of the significance of education within the conventional framework, but he also wanted to extend the range of Keio University a little bit. So there was a need to establish an interdisciplinary, horizontal faculty, that is, the Faculty of Environmental Information.

ITAO: °»Environmental Information°… is a very unique term that is becoming widespread.

SAITO: The fact is there were some objections to including °»environment°… in the name of a faculty, saying that the °»environment°… is too broad and vague as a category to include too many factors. But we pushed our way through and called it the °»Faculty of Environmental Information.°… °»Environmental information°… involves both arts and science in nature. In our case, however, the term °»environment°… refers not only to the natural environment but also to broader issues. Specifically, the idea is to analyze a variety of issues including social and cultural environments by making use of information technology and tools.

ITAO: That means addressing the environment by using information as a tool.

SAITO: Exactly. Measuring the natural environment, which is one of your specialties, involves analyses of observed data and making decisions on policy matters based on the results of those analyses. It is, so to speak, a rather businesslike approach.

ITAO: Yes it is. We are observing society from a relatively advanced viewpoint.

SAITO: The environment we first addressed belonged rather to the category of arts, and did not include any aspects of natural science. Students later joined the faculty, however, had much interest in issues related to environmental conservation, such as ISO14001 and environmental pollutions. So we invited Mr. Shuzo Nishioka and Mr. Hiroshi Shimizu at the National Institute for Environmental Studies. We also called on several natural-environment specialists, but we still need to beef up the areas related to biology and ecology.

ITAO: Personally, do you intend to further extend the range of the natural environment and the global environment in addition to the social environment?

SAITO: Yes. We need to extend the range some more.

ITAO: Contrary, the environmental study of The University of Tokyo is primarily based on environmental science. Of course they have the course in sociocultural environments, but the majority of the students are those specializing in science and engineering including subjects such as natural environments, human environments and artificial environments. It is just the opposite of your faculty. If we work together, we might be able to complement with each other in many constructive ways. Personally, I believe measurements are the basis of the environmental study. If your faculty analyzes our data and make recommendations to society based on it, we might be able to create a very interesting relationship.

SAITO: It°«s a relation of interdependence, isn°«t it? The environment itself involves an extremely wide range of areas. So we definitely need to link natural environments, artificial environments and social environments with one another.

The Environmental Aspect, Which Changes the Economy

ITAO: In those days when Japan°«s economy expanded year after year, the paramount priority was to mass-produce various commodities cheaply and efficiently without any consideration to the environment. In the latter half of the 20th century, however, we finally realized that the earth is finite. Now therefore, the producer side needs to adopt different ways of thinking little by little. In other words, we have entered an era where the burden on the environment must be considered in addition to commodity prices. As a matter of fact, the recent trend has been to put the term °»environment°… on everything in order to be accepted by the market.

SAITO: Environmental economy, environmental accounting, et cetera. Indeed, Europe is taking the lead in environmental measures, but as far as Asia is concerned, Japan is also leading the pack in these areas.

ITAO: Muskie Act, which regulates auto emissions may be a good example ? Japan was quick in doing the homework assigned by the U.S. Japan is quite sensitive to the environment and has advanced technologies to address it. For that matter, Japan°«s economy has the advantage over the U.S. economy in some areas. While the wave of globalization is now sweeping the world°«s market, product development based on environmental technologies could be one of the effective strategies.

SAITO: That°«s apparent from the recent corporate ratings. Nikkei, for example, is considering not only profits and efficiency but also contributions to the environment and society in rating companies.

The Research in Computers in Japan

From its Dawning to the Present Day

ITAO: Originally, you specialize in applied physics. Would you explain your career as well as what you have in your mind?

SAITO: I first specialized in mathematical engineering in applied physics, specifically automatic control at Faculty of Engineering, the University of Tokyo. As my faculty adviser happened to be a specialist from Electrotechnical Laboratory (the present National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology) of MITI (the present Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), I joined the laboratory after getting my master°«s degree. That was back in 1966. Japan was then striving to catch up with frontrunners, and MITI, under such circumstance, launched a series of major projects. The first of these projects was the research in high-performance computers. In a word, it was an attempt to develop a mainframe that can compete with the IBM°«s. Professor Hideo Aiso and Professor Kazuhiro Fuchi were leading the study group made up of some 20 researchers. Around that time, MIT designed an OS called Multics, which later developed into UNIX. And Dr. Jerome Saltzer, a 27-year-old researcher who had just completed his doctorate at MIT, visited Japan to give a weeklong lecture to leading authorities in computers like Professor Shigekazu Moriguchi and Professor Hidetoshi Takahasi. Japan was that much behind the U.S. at that time. But the lecture of Dr. Jerome was pretty much exciting; it gave me a great interest in computers. And ever since then, for 35 years, I°«ve been a computer enthusiast.

ITAO: So you have been engaged in computers since their early days. The whole history of computers in Japan is on your shoulders.

SAITO: To be precise, our previous generation was already working on the projects for developing hardware; those for designing software started with our generation. Specifically, the previous generation was developing devices such as a relay-type computer called °»MARK-II°… and Japan°«s first transistor computer called °»Mark-IV°… at Electrotechnical Laboratory. Honestly, I°«m totally ignorant about hardware and not even good at soldering. Eight years later, meanwhile, MITI decided to relocate Electrotechnical Laboratory to Tsukuba. Since I didn°«t want to transfer to Tsukuba, I quit the laboratory. But later on, I ended up being assigned to University of Tsukuba.

ITAO: Was it the time when the university was set up?

SAITO: Yes. That was back in 1974. University of Tsukuba was established based on high ideals.

ITAO: As one of national institutes, moreover, the university adopted a new form of administration.

SAITO. Yes it did. For example, educational units and research units were separated. In addition, a computer course was made compulsory for all students, though this is not known so much. And I was one of the members engaged in the designing of this course.

ITAO: So you have been engaged not only in research but also in education from the beginning. By the way, the value of software is hardly appreciated in Japan. Our tendency has been to praise manufacturing efforts while downplaying the software for controlling them. In Japan, the term °»manufacturing°… generally refers to hardware. In reality, however, hardware and software are closely connected with each other and are both indispensable for manufacturing. As a matter of fact, designing software requires more intelligence than manufacturing hardware.

SAITO: It may be so; when designing software, you need to create concepts first. If we are not good at creating concepts, we may not be able to fully industrialize software production in Japan.

ITAO: Since you have engaged in software education, you might have some idea how to educate students in this particular area.

SAITO: If what you need are stereotyped engineers, you only have to develop several courses and give them guidance on specific techniques. However, teaching them how to create concepts is quite another story; it°«s more than what can be handled in ordinary education.

ITAO: I think so, too. That means to cultivate the imagination. Our imagination develops naturally from our earlier years as we start communicating with nature and having doubts about specific matters.

Developing Business Based on the Intellectual Properties of Universities

ITAO: You have extended your territory from the filed of education to that of business by being appointed the president of Keio Academic Enterprise. I gather you°«re going to develop business activities by making use of both students and working people, while managing the university on the other hand. Is there any recipe for that?

SAITO: No, but the fact is the revenue sources of universities are becoming increasingly insufficient, which is particularly true for private universities. Our younger generation is decreasing rapidly, and with it, the number of students. Tuition hike is not feasible since an increasing number of households are losing their source of income because of restructuring. Worse yet, the government is expected to cut down subsidies. So we have no other option but to rely on business for revenues. Our plan is to generate revenues by means of our intellectual properties such as patents and a variety of human resources, or for that matter, the °»Keio°… brand, while adopting the form of an academic enterprise. The revenues will be committed to stabilizing the management of the university.

ITAO: That means Keio University is moving away from an educational establishment to an integrated one.

SAITO: There are some objections to bringing profit-making activities into the academic world. But I think the very idea of forming a partnership between industry and academia is wonderful. The hard part of it is that no private companies are immune to going into the red. However, we need to push ahead with correspondence courses and ventures from the business point of view.

ITAO: We seem to be in the midst of the IT recession, but the trend toward IT is irreversible, though there may be some ups and downs in the future. In this sense, there is a great potential in IT-related industries.

SAITO: In addition to IT, we are going to extend our territory to new areas such as biotechnology and nanotechnology. These areas have a great impact on society and hold promise to create business opportunities. The issue of the possible burden on the natural environment is also important.

ITAO: You are exactly talking about a nature interface.

Investment in Education Builds the Future of Japan

ITAO: The recent trend in Japan°«s education has been to spend less and less money on it. We should invest more money in education to foster human resources for business. Specifically, I would like to suggest setting up courses in environmental planning and management for working people.

SAITO: We hope we will be able to indirectly take part in such contributions to society. Universities themselves should be promoting education and research in partnership with industry, while striving to commercialize and develop these activities into new industries such as the software and the intellectual industries. We also hope to be of help in supporting these efforts.

ITAO: In my opinion, the concept that °»Japan must feature manufacturing°… is good in itself, but we should be developing human resources rather than manufacturing products in the future. Excellent human resources will eventually produce good things and systems. So the government should invest more money on education; the current amount of investment is by no means sufficient, falling far short of that in the U.S.

SAITO: In the days of the Clinton Administration, the U.S. continued to enjoy budget surpluses. Considering the future of the country, President Clinton invested substantially in education, which had been a discreet decision. On the other hand, those who know nothing but universities are useless. As I said, both research and education should be promoted hand-in-hand with industry. In so doing, we will better know the needs of companies whose employees have good ideas to share with students. By the way, a specialized graduate school called °»law school°… has been established recently; it is supposed to accept businessmen.

ITAO: Yes. That might be one of the approaches we need to take. Both education in basic liberal arts and that in practical business should be specialized to a certain point.

SAITO: That°«s also true for universities; they need to specialize in certain areas, and for that matter, they should be reformed.

ITAO: Thank you very much for sharing with us your suggestive view on various issues such as educational problems and a possible partnership between industry and academia.

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