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Higashi Nippon International University looks to welcome more international students

Interview - April 4, 2018

Sakuji Yoshimura speaks about the internationalization of Japanese education, and the courses on offer at HNIU for international students.



Historically considered as an isolated country, Japan has recently been labelled as one of the "troubled twins of globalization". As a result of the ageing population and decreasing domestic, the private and public sectors have urged the country to internationalise. How important is higher education in the internationalising process of Japan?

If you consider the entire world, there are undeniably huge differences between Japan and other countries. When viewed from such perspective, the impasse continues. However, when we look specifically at Asia, we can notice that the different cultures share some common points. One of the major missions of our university is, therefore, to teach Japanese to international students, so that both international and domestic students can learn more about our shared cultural heritages, our communal ways of seeing the world; they come to realise consequently all the common points that we share – this process provides for them, a bit paradoxically, a window into the world of others. We want to build strong connections with Asian countries by exchanging and sharing such commonalities to "open" our society.


What are the consequences of Japan’s demographic situation on its education sector?

Quite a few institutions feel that there is no way out of this impasse. How to overcome such inertia? I believe that attracting international students to Japan is one of the solutions to the decreasing demographics problem – and a consequent feeling of inertia – the Japanese people currently encounter and other countries will suffer. We would like to see an "Asian Union" as European Union, and for people to notice that we share the same world. Our success and failures depend on one another; we need to exchange knowledge, experience, fresh minds, and visions. In order to internationalise Fukushima, we want people in the world to realise how welcoming and friendly our people are. Of course, there are some linguistic barriers, but these can be easily overcome. We want to invite international students here, teach them our language and our culture, and they communicate their cultures with us; such process will internationalise our region. Even though most of the Japanese people, especially here, are shy, they have a very warm heart.


Japan constantly ranks amongst the 7 most represented nations in the yearly Times Higher Education World University Ranking (1st in Asia). However, the country’s universities underscore in factors connected to “international outlook.” What are the strengths and weaknesses of Japan’s higher education today?

Our education system is one of the best in Asia; particularly, it is well structured. Whilst I believe we still need to enhance recognition of excellent points of this system, in fields such as science and advanced technologies, we are already a reference. However, when it comes to social sciences or humanities we have to build a solid reputation. I believe that Japanese professors are partially responsible for the weakness of these fields. They are too closed minded and refuse to adapt to our ever-changing world.


Despite 2016's encouraging numbers, Japan is still far away from its regional potential. For ASEAN, Japan as a destination is systematically surpassed by leading nations - UK, USA – or by countries with a lower academic track record – New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand -. In some specific cases, Japan truly underscores. Ex: Only 10% of South Korea's exchange students go to Japan. Only 0.2% of India's exchange students go to Japan. What must be done to attract more international students?

We need to look at each country individually to understand its people. For example, Indian people prefer to go to America to study – to an English-speaking country – rather than come to Japan, where it is practically difficult to live without any knowledge of Japanese. We need to take into account that our country is a very "closed" country, but here at our university, we are trying to change that. We are implementing a new English class – English as a lingua franca from the perspective of plurilingualism, communication tool for the entire world – from the next year, and we are making it mandatory for all students. We are trying to change mentalities and to make people realise the important position of the English language in our pluricultural world today.

We are also thinking of performing some of our lectures in English, to slowly change mentalities. Mentalities: One of the main problems is that they tend not to speak English outside of the classroom as they are often scared of making mistakes. It is probably a result of our educational tradition. However, we are glad to be contributing to opening Japanese youth, by providing the English language as a lingua franca, which will help both international and domestic students to communicate each other. Some of our professors have already started making a summary of their classes in English. At the end of the lecture, they will summarize the whole class in English, allowing students to assimilate the language. We have noticed that when they have been taught in Japanese, and we repeat it in English, both international and Japanese students make connections and assimilate words; this procedure will help them to improve their communication skills.


Higashi Nippon International University was established in 1995 as the Higashi Nippon (Eastern Japan) International University, Faculty of Economics. Can you tell us more about the classes and facilities that you offer today?

We have many different programmes at our institution. From innovative management classes to economy & finance, we try to provide a variety of innovative programmes. We offer also sports management programme, ICT studies, tourism management and even Egyptology. We have 9 different programmes in total at the Faculty of Economics & Management and 4 programmes at the Faculty of Health and Welfare; we are very proud of that. For international students, we offer also a possibility of concentrating on the Japanese language. We have just extended the number of various management programmes, because, in my eyes, life is management. Every single job in the world goes down to management. In my experience, when working in the archaeological fields in Egypt, 80% was management: management of people, of time, and of resources. 


Today, your University offers two distinct faculties: The Faculty of Economics & Management and the Faculty of Health and Welfare; you also have the SCFS – Special Courses for Foreign Students. How do you ensure the quality of your classes? Are all your teachers Japanese?

15% of professors come from abroad or have got their degrees in other countries, such as the UK, France, Korea, China or the USA. So, we have a highly internationalised group of staff here, I mean, not only faculty members but also non-academic professionals, even though some are already naturalised Japanese. Certainly, it is not easy to hire teaching staff coming from abroad in Fukushima, because most of them prefer to go to Tokyo. But it is still very important to have such members at our institution, and we hope to attract more in the future.


In 1985, you founded the Intensive Japanese Language Course for Overseas Students as SCFS, a programme set to promote international exchanges by teaching the Japanese language, but also the ways of Japan's unique culture, society and economy. Can you tell us more about your capabilities and about the services you offer to host foreign students?

We have 2 international halls here to accommodate international students. In addition, we offer specialised scholarships for international students. Today, we have ca. 15% of international students in our university and we hope to reach 30% in the upcoming years. We wish to have a balance of students from all over the world, especially from Asia. We have noticed an increase in Thai students, Nepalese students, Vietnamese students and also students from Myanmar. Our intensive Japanese course will help them to understand Japanese culture and to live together with local people. We also hope to increase African students in the future.


So, how about your domestic students? Can you tell us more about your services you offer to the local students to internationalise the region?

We have some partnerships with different universities in the world, such as China, Korea and USA etc. Recently, we have created a partnership with Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent. We are very much looking forward to increasing the number of students studying abroad and extending partnerships all over Asia and Africa. As an Egyptology expert, I have a strong bond with Cairo, and I personally hope to create partnerships with the universities there.


Where would you like to see your university in 10 years?

We want to send more Japanese students abroad so that they could "internationalise" their thoughts by expanding their way of thinking. We wish to attract more international students, but most importantly: We want to introduce the beauty of our country to students, to help them to understand our culture, and to welcome our international students into our society. However, we know that the only way that we will be able to achieve such goals is by working intensely on our brand image. By working on the brand image, we also hope to extend the companies and cities which we collaborate with. In the future, we will continue making efforts on collaborating with different regions, and different countries, and we hope to help all those who wish to discover Japan and Asia.