The University of Tokyo (Todai) has seven nurseries in total: four nurseries directly managed by the university (hereinafter, "Todai Nurseries"), one on each of four campuses, plus three other nurseries owned and operated by NPOs and the University of Tokyo Hospital. This places it among the world's largest in scale.
Providing the highest level of research and education and running nurseries might appear to be unrelated; in a practical sense, however, they are not. A university nursery is an important component of the academic infrastructure that facilitates the gathering of talented people and harnessing of their capacity to bring the best out of themselves.
Todai Nurseries, in particular, are considered an integral part of the university's efforts to promote gender equality. In particular, the Office for Gender Equality, one of the university's facilities for promoting equality and diversity, has played a central role in the development process, with the aim of accomplishing the university's mission to create an ideal environment for academic pursuits. Thus, the enrolment criteria of Todai Nurseries reflect its philosophy of equality and diversity. I will explain the purpose and development of these nurseries based on my involvement in their establishment from planning through to implementation as the Section Head for Development of Working Environment, and later the Head of the Office for Gender Equality.
1. Development of Todai Nurseries: promoted by the Office for Gender Equality
"A nursery for each campus!"
In an open dialogue with the former President Hiroshi Komiyama (2005-2008), this was a top priority request from the faculty and graduate courses' students of each campus of the University of Tokyo.
Previously, the university had launched the Working Group for Gender Equality in 2001, and published the "Gender-Equal Participation Basic Plan for the University of Tokyo" as well as "The University of Tokyo's Declaration on Gender Equality" in 2003. Furthermore, in April 2006, the Office for Gender Equality was established under the direct supervision of the university president. At the same time, the office set up the Section for Development of Working Environment (SDWE), giving it a mission of promoting and establishing university nurseries. It should be noted that from the beginning the university was firm in its belief that the nurseries were important for realizing gender equality within the institution; in other words, the nurseries could offer ways to balance work and child-rearing.
2. Basic policies for nurseries organized by the University of Tokyo
First, SDWE conducted a questionnaire survey among the university's faculty in October 2006 regarding the institutional environment. When asked what facilities and policies they would most like to see implemented, the second most popular response was "establishment of university nurseries", after "flexible working conditions".
To respond to this, SDWE prepared the "Basic Policies for Daycare Facility Provision for the University of Tokyo Faculty and Students" (hereinafter, the "Basic Policies") and obtained approval from the Board of Directors in December 2006. The essential features of the basic policies are as follows:
- Establishing university nurseries has enormous significance in demonstrating the university's earnest efforts towards gender equality and raising the next generation of our society.
- Establishing university nurseries will provide a place for the children of university students who now have lower enrollment priority at outside community nurseries compared with the children of workers, as well as childcare services to meet the need of researchers who have to stay on campus late into evening in order to continue research experiments and observations.
- Having children on campus in everyday situations will promote compassion for others among faculty members and students, thereby fostering future researchers who are warm, sensitive and caring in their relationships with others.
- University nurseries enable faculty members and students to balance their research, work, education, or study with childrearing as well as to develop new circles of support and friends; this will demonstrate the university's earnest efforts to create an enriched society and culture through raising the next generation of our society.
Under such policies, Todai Nurseries are to be open not only to the faculty and staff but also to students including graduate students, international students, and postdoctoral researchers of the University of Tokyo. This was very much welcomed by the international students, in particular, as they face difficulty in enrolling their children in local nurseries. At the same time, the inclusion of the international students is consistent with the university's strategic objectives for diversity.
However, the acceptance of children of postgraduate and international students made it difficult to obtain regulatory approval as a licensed daycare facility (Ninka-hoikuen) or a Tokyo Metropolitan Government certified-daycare facility (Ninsho-hoikuen). As a result, the university was obliged to register Todai Nurseries as non-licensed daycare facilities operated by the university within its premises ("Daycare Facilities within Organizations"). Meanwhile, some conditions were proposed: for example, the Hongo Keyaki Day Nursery, one of the Todai Nurseries, should only accept children under the age of three due to high demand for child care at the Hongo campus; and day-care fees should be charged according to household income, taking into consideration the income level of students including international students.
3. Efforts made to establish Todai Nurseries
1) Acquiring approval of the Board of Directors and construction funds
The first hurdle to clear was to gain the understanding of the Board of Directors of the university regarding the significance and necessity of university nurseries as well as to secure funds for construction and operating costs. To do this, we had to convince the directors that the establishment of nurseries was beneficial for the management of the university.
Upon discussion on the establishment of Todai Nurseries at the directors roundtable conference held in December 2007, a director in charge of the Office for Gender Equality submitted documentation on the "Basic principles and policies of nurseries operated by the University of Tokyo" and the "Survey report on nurseries of the top-level universities in the world". The report showed that many of the world's leading universities have multiple nurseries; for example, the University of Oxford has seven nurseries; Harvard University, Yale University, and Stanford University, six; and the University of Cambridge, five. The director also added the comment of a female member of 'Satsuki-kai', the women alumnae association of the University of Tokyo, which says "When I had an opportunity to study at an overseas university with my child, I received good support from the university regarding childcare services; I could submit an application to their nursery before leaving Japan".
As a result of these efforts by the Office for Gender Equality, the Board finally understood the necessity to establish nurseries within the university, not merely as a means of providing a benefit package, but also as an integral part of the infrastructure that makes the University of Tokyo one of the world's leading universities. Consequently, the Board approved allocation of part of the university's 130th anniversary fund to the construction cost of the nurseries.
2) Securing locations for nurseries
The location of a nursery should be safe and convenient for parents and children; therefore, candidate sites on each campus were carefully examined. It was especially difficult to find, within the Hongo campus, a site for a nursery that was in free-standing structure, in a safe area and conveniently located for an easy stroll: in the end, an existing warehouse was used for a nursery.
3) The Office for Gender Equality, a professional group giving an impulse to the Todai Nurseries project
After securing nursery locations, SDWE set up a preparatory working group for planning and implementing practical measures to begin the establishment of the nurseries. In addition, in September 2007, the Todai Model Support Plan was adopted in "Supporting Activities for Female Researchers" by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) under its Special Coordination Fund. This event enabled the university to recruit two additional faculty members to join the Office for Gender Equality.
One of them was an advisor of the Advising Room for Female Researchers, who was assigned to the Todai Nurseries project. The advisor had a broad range of experience as a maternity nurse, health nurse, and had once been a doctoral student; therefore, she could understand the feelings of female researchers and nurses. She was also a parent, and thus familiar with the issues though her children's nursery experiences. In this regard, she was the right person for the project and her participation resulted in accelerating the pace of the project.
With her efforts, the working group conducted the preparatory work, including the design of nursery buildings; formulating specifications and screening criteria for subcontracting childcare providers; creating application guidelines and application forms; opening nursery websites and sending out circulars within the campuses; holding orientation sessions; setting up enquiry desks, and so on. Furthermore, English documentation and enquiry desks were prepared specifically for foreign researchers and students.
Actual childcare services were subcontracted to private operators who were approvied in an assessment by the Selection Committee. One of the requirements for these childcare providers was English proficiency: this is simply because Todai Nurseries aim to provide equal services to foreign parents whose mother tongue is not Japanese. The fundamental objective of Todai Nurseries is not to provide English education to children, but to bringing up children in good mental and physical health, which was a key point in the selection of childcare providers.
Starting with a nursery on Hongo campus (main campus), the opening of all four nurseries proceeded steadily. I am grateful for the efforts and contributions of all involved in this process including the faculty and staff. In fact, I was helped by the sound advice given by professionals of the university's education department specializing in early childhood care and education.
We also received support from different departments of the university regarding nursery physicians: for example, the Department of Pediatrics has taken charge of the Todai Hongo Keyaki Day Nursery; the Institute of Medical Science, the Todai Shirokane Himawari Day Nursery; local pediatric practitioners, the Todai Komaba Mukunoki Day Nursery and Todai Kashiwa Donguri Day Nursery.
In addition, the faculty member of the Institute of Industrial Science (specializing in barrier-free architecture) designed the building of the Todai Komaba.
Mukunoki Day Nursery. Likewise, the Todai Kashiwa Donguri Day Nursery was designed with the assistance of a first-class qualified and experienced architect of the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, and with advice from an architect from the School of Engineering specializing in medical welfare facilities. We also received advice and suggestions, for building designs giving careful consideration to children's behavioral patterns, from the Department of Human and Engineered Environmental Studies. The establishment of Todai Nurseries was realized through interdisciplinary collaboration.
4. Implementation and management of Todai Nurseries
1) Setting up the four Todai Nurseries
All Todai Nurseries were set up in stages during the period between April and December 2008 (see slide 1). Each nursery has a capacity of 30 children and offers regular daycare as well as occasional daycare services.
2) Establishment and activities of the Nursery Steering Committee
All four nurseries were expected to have different functions according to the requirements and characteristics of each campus. In order to ensure the quality and commonality as a nursery of the University of Tokyo, and at the same time, maintaining their individual flexibility in providing services, the "Internal Regulations for the Use of University Nurseries" and the University of Tokyo Day Nurseries Steering Committee were established in July 2008 to monitor and assist in meeting these criteria.
Enrollment criteria and other detailed rules were prepared by a nursery subcommittee (set up in each nursery) and approved by the Nursery Steering Committee. In addition, the Committee takes responsibility to review, through its audit system, the basic standards of childcare at Todai Nurseries including opening hours, daycare fees, and enrolment criteria. The Committee also handles common issues arising from these four nurseries.
Although Todai Nurseries are non-licensed daycare facilities, the quality of their services is nothing short of exceptional, hiring qualified childcare providers who have the same level or higher expertise compared with those in certified daycare facilities. The meals they offer are all homemade. Furthermore, the Hongo Keyaki Day Nursery employs a health nurse to ensure prompt care of sick children and measures in the case of influenza outbreaks.
By maintaining the same quality of childcare service as certified daycare facilities, two Todai Nurseries on Hongo campus and Komaba campus have become eligible for the "Support Subsidies for Daycare Facilities within Organizations" established by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 2007. These nurseries continue to receive the subsidies up to the present; these subsidies are allocated to part of operating expenses.
3) Implementation of enrollment criteria
The criteria for enrollment in Todai Nurseries are carefully designed based on parents' status and hours of their research. The first priority of the mission of the nurseries is to support female researchers; more precisely, to enable them to take postdoctoral research opportunities and continue their study by sending their children to nursery. Admission becomes increasingly competitive reflecting the conditions and requirements of each campus; in particular, applications have been flooding in for the Hongo Keyaki Day Nursery due to excess demand from parents.
5. Outcomes of establishing Todai Nurseries: actual conditions and evaluation
After opening, two of the Todai Nurseries on Hongo campus and Shirokane campus immediately became overcrowded. The nurseries on Komaba campus and Kashiwa campus have received many applications from international researchers who live in the university's international housing. In fact, each Todai nursery includes children from many cultural origins; for example, in terms of children under regular daycare services as of 2010, the Hongo Keyaki Day Nursery and Shirokane Himawari Day Nursery had children from five nationalities; the Komaba Mukunoki Day Nursery, seven nationalities; and the Kashiwa Donguri Day Nursery, four nationalities.
The opening of directly-run nurseries by the university has been a significant contribution to the support of female students, faculty members and researchers enabling them to complete their studies and obtain postdoctoral jobs. Female staff newly employed by the university commented that "The Todai nursery has helped me a lot. I really appreciate it".
As mentioned above, the construction cost of Todai Nurseries was covered by the university's 130th anniversary fund. I still remember the short speech presented by an international female student at a report meeting held for the contributors of the fund. She expressed her gratitude, saying "I gave birth to my child while I was a doctoral student and had nearly given up on continuing my studies. Then a Todai nursery was opened on the campus. Now, every morning and evening, I feel so happy to leave for the campus with my child and husband and come back home with them. I am glad that I can continue my studies like this. Thank you very much".
I heard that now there is a network of parents who are using Todai Nurseries across the campuses and departments. It is truly delightful and encouraging to see a sense of community growing among researchers who are raising our next generation.
On another front, however, there are some issues: a highly competitive admission rate for the Hongo Keyaki Day Nursery due to excess demand, adding to the constant burden of operating costs. There is a certain limit when it comes to a university establishing and operating nurseries. It is local authorities who must proactively work to create a positive environment for childcare facilities and services; and to do this, we must gain the understanding of the community.
University nurseries are no longer a rare sight in Japan today. Nonetheless, Todai Nurseries have three unique characteristics; They are 1) directly managed by the university; 2) accept children of students including graduate, postdoctoral and international students; and 3) reduce or waive fees according to household income (see slide 2).
Female researchers, especially female students who wish to conduct research, often face a dilemma when they have a child, thinking "I want to raise my child and continue my research. Am I expecting too much? Or just being greedy or selfish?" The establishment of university nurseries is a kind of message from the university that tries to convince these talented people that "it is certainly a good thing to both raise children and develop one's abilities in academic pursuits". This can also bring a cultural shift towards gender equality in the university and in the society as a whole.
In Japan today, the declining birthrate is an urgent issue. In order to solve this problem, first we should work on raising public awareness so that women can balance childrearing with self-fulfillment to attain excellence in academic and professional pursuits. I strongly hope that, in the future, more and more talented women with the tender and caring qualities necessary for motherhood, along with the intellectual capacity to conduct research will be able to attain their academic potential without being restrained by old conventions and views. A new attitude towards a woman's role in society will, as a consequence, contribute to creating a sustainable culture for Japan.
I would like to thank the following people for their valuable advice:
Dr. Yukiko Miura, the Head of the Office for Gender Equality, Dr. Izumi Watai, Associate professor of Nagoya university and the former advisor of the Advising Room for Female Researchers