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Japan’s most international university

Interview - March 7, 2018

A small university with a grand vision, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) aims to foster graduates with an international mindset – global citizens with the power the change the world and lead the Asia-Pacific region. President, Mr. Deguchi Haruaki, speaks about APU’s vision for 2030, and the international environment it has fostered since it opened in 2000, with 89 nationalities represented on campus



How important is higher education in the internationalizing process of Japan?

Some 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to work as an entrepreneur managing a business between Tokyo and London. During that time, I met with various multinational executives. I came to realize that most of these directors had at least a double masters or double degrees. I believe that pursuing extensive higher education degrees is an international standard.

In other cultures, if you do not pursue two degrees, it appears like you are slacking; but this is the standard of global leaders. It therefore goes without saying that higher education is the key to Japan’s success in terms of internationalization.

Today, Japan is a consequent investor for international institutions, such as the UN, to whom we provide large funds and financial donations. On the managerial side however, we lack in terms of human personnel provision. When I look at the reasons why that is, the answer is quite simple. An international body like the UN receives applications from the world over. I have had a chance to look at their website. Just to qualify to apply, you must have at least a master’s degree. In Japan, the number of students that go to graduate school to pursue a master's degree is low; it is simply not a standard here. For that reason alone, the number of Japanese applicants to the UN is lower than other nations. According to the OECD, 60% of international high school graduates go to university. In contrast to that, Japan’s average stands at 50%. It is therefore crucial for us to address the fact that Japan is below the world’s average in terms of degrees and graduates.


Why do you think that is? And how can it be changed?

From a macro-economic perspective, education requires money. Japan has one of the highest GDPs amongst OECD nations. For our economy to attain such humongous size, we have expanded based on the factory model. Based on this type of industrialization, the values that were cultivated within the workforce emphasized a sense of unity, order and harmony. Japan raised workers that could endure and persevere, and these characteristics are not linked to creativity, uniqueness, or critical thinking. Do you believe that Steve Jobs could strive in a factory? I believe that he would be thinking about so many different things, that he wouldn't be able do the work required. In today’s Japan, the service sector accounts for 3/4 of the entire economy. Considering our economic situation, the key to Japan’s further success lies in its ability to foster a workforce that has values similar to Steve Jobs’: values of creativity and diversity.

The finest strategy to foster a diverse society is to make people interact with a variety of different cultures. Rather than taking a logical or rational approach, we must encourage diversity; we must promote the immersion of oneself into what is foreign. I believe that Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University is a “United Nations composed of young people.” At APU, we welcome students from 89 countries. Soon, I will turn 70 years old, and I have visited a total of about 80 countries. Studying in such an international environment at such a young age enhances the growth rate of any individual. It is a true opportunity to expand oneself.


How is APU contributing to the improvement of Japan’s education sector as a whole?

APU is not solely providing an international environment, for it also carries on an ambitious vision. The lapel badge that I am wearing is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) logo. The UN encapsulated its beautiful vision for the world by 2030 with the creation of the SDG. In order for humanity to advance, it is important to have ambitious goals. I’d like to ask: how many universities or corporations have a lofty vision like this, looking towards the year 2030 and beyond?

Three years ago, APU created a vision for 2030. It is a grand vision that promotes the successes of APU’s alumni in their future endeavours and in their actions to change the world. Our graduates number at about 15,000, and they are scattered across the world. At present, about half of our student body—some 3000 students—studying here represent 89 countries and territories. There is simply no place like APU in Japan. Not only in terms of diverse campus environment, but also with regards to sustaining such a beautiful long-term vision to foster global leaders. At APU, we can try whatever it is that other universities can’t. We hope that through our success, we will encourage other Japanese institutions to follow a similar vision and model. We hope to strengthen, encourage and inspire the entire education sector of Japan to rise to the level we aspire to reach. We are a small institution, but we do hold this grand vision and we are committed to realizing it.


What must be done to enhance the APU model?

As the president of such an inspiring institution, I always ask myself: “what can I do as a leader?” My role is to gather the best students, faculty, and staff. The essence of what makes a great university is excellent education and distinguished research capabilities. These two factors heavily depend on the ability to attract top-quality staff and students. For that reason, we need funds. To properly manage a university, it is crucial to obtain a strong foundation of monetary contributions, which will then be re-invested in state-of-the-art education and research.


Why did you decide to take on this position?

The first aspect that excited me is that APU took the unusual step for a Japanese university of accepting candidates for the presidency from the public sphere. The other aspect is that it is composed of an extremely diverse environment, one that my predecessors have been able to establish since the year 2000. APU truly has a grand vision of changing the world. I want to take on that challenge and work inclusively will all stakeholders. Staff, faculty, students, local community members… together, we can achieve the grand vision of APU.

Ten years ago, I established an independent life insurance company from zero. In Japan, a lot of executives and government officials come from business backgrounds of banking and insurance. It is historic to have created an independent life insurance company like this from scratch, as it has rarely happened in the history of Japan. Through and through, I have, and always will be, excited by challenges. Throughout my work experience, I’ve had the chance to establish a venture as an entrepreneur, but also to work within Japan’s large corporate structure. I always maintain a spirit of excitement in the eyes of a challenge. I am honoured and pleased to apply my experience and skills towards the betterment of APU.


What role can APU play within the Asian continent?

In terms of economic power within Asia, Japan ranks 2nd after China. While we may not be at the level of China, Japan’s economic force in terms of quality and knowledge has the potential to lead the rest of Asia. The strength of APU is that classes are conducted both in English and Japanese. The majority of our international students come from the Asian region, and this region has an undoubtable potential for growth. Although Trump put the TPP on hold for the moment, it will be established in the future.

I truly believe that, as its name indicates it, APU will go on to play a vital role in fostering the leaders and the grand vision necessary to lead the Asia-Pacific region. Our graduates are able to study at a UN-like organization with a strong financial foundation, and a truly diverse and international environment made of 89 countries with Japanese and English as common languages for their classes. If I were the CEO of a company, I would welcome APU graduates. Not only have they experienced and are able to understand the context of a global environment, but they have also acquired English and Japanese skills. In today’s corporate world, there is no student more qualified. To that end, I will be meeting with the CEOs and entrepreneurial leaders of Japan to share the remarkable qualities of our graduates.


How did APU succeed in creating such an environment that no other Japanese University has managed to?

In other Japanese universities, management is conducted by the faculty. However, specialists in academia and research aren’t necessarily specialists in management. The presidents before me also happened to be academic leaders, so that claim is not necessary true in all cases. In Japan, faculty plays the first role in management. The staff is ranked second, and third come the students and alumni. At APU, the faculty and the staff played an equal role right from the beginning, and they were soon followed by the alumni. All these groups worked together, on the same level, towards achieving their common goal. An example of this strategy is the president selection committee. The leader of the committee is composed of a board of directors, which itself is composed of one staff member, five members of the faculty, two other-staff members and two members of the alumni. Out of this board, four were non-Japanese citizens and four were women. My selection came about as the result of a diverse electoral committee.

In Japanese corporations, the selection committee also nominates the leader. However, if you were to compare the committee of APU to the ones of large Japanese corporations, you’d notice that they are far different from one another. The diversity of opinions reflected in APU’s electoral committee is simply unrivalled. Furthermore, our vision for 2030 wasn't solely created by the faculty but by all stakeholders. I do feel that this is another difference between APU and other institutions.


Are you planning in your mandate to further develop institutional relations for APU students?

Absolutely. It is crucial for APU to continue on establishing relationships with international organizations, governmental bodies, embassies and foreign media. As we are taking on such an ambitious challenge, our progress must be heard, seen, and known by a wider audience.

Currently, two of our university students are Syrian refugees. The experience, vision and hurry that these individuals have to change the world is simply incredible to witness. They have such valuable inputs to add to the global community. We need to continue on meeting with ambassadors and other leaders to enhance APU’s standing by collaborating with different institutions worldwide.


As you finish your 3-year term, what legacy would you like to leave behind at APU?

No matter what you are leading, the most important thing is the results you leave behind. Three years from now, if APU’s position in terms of global consciousness and awareness has been raised, I would consider it as my greatest accomplishment. International accreditations, such as the AACSB—which we have acquired—are crucial to the exposure of our institution. No matter how great your education, research capacity or institution are as a whole, if you are not known by the world, it does not matter. I feel that everything comes down to increasing in a visible and concrete way APU’s rank and position within the world.  And toward that objective, I will give it my all.