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International partnerships to boost performance of higher institutions

Article - December 5, 2015

An international approach by Japan’s universities – helped by funding from the government – is set to improve educational standards


Education has become a vital aspect of Japan’s economic reorientation through Abenomics but reforms are set to be felt far beyond its own shores.

Improving relationships with international universities and forging links with U.S. institutions has emerged as a vital play that will provide its younger generation with a global outlook on the world.

“We do not have that steadily increasing population anymore [in Japan],” says Dr. Susumu Satomi, President of Tohoku University. “We do not have that steadily growing domestic demand anymore either. We need to go out and engage more with the rest of the world.”

To do this, Japan has built on existing networks such as the CULCON organization, which promotes exchange with the U.S. “By strengthening this organization we would like to increase the number of exchange students between Japan and America,” says Hakubun Shimomura, former MEXT.

The aim is to double the number of exchange students by 2020, taking it up to 50,000 as well as increasing the number of U.S. students coming to Japan.  Such partnerships have significant history explains Kaoru Kamata, President of Waseda University.

“Waseda began partnering with U.S. liberal arts schools in 1963,” he says. “We hosted 100 or more American students each year for over 50 years and those former students are now leaders in all sorts of fields in the U.S. and Japan, binding the two countries together.”

Hakubun Shimomura, Former Minister of Education

Mr. Shimomura also highlights U.S. and Japanese universities working together to develop joint degrees and adds that other policies, such as starting teaching English earlier, will improve standards.

Raising Japan’s educational profile is also important and there are plans to push internationalization through the Super Global 30 and the Top University Program, while the government also wants to see 10 of its local universities move into the QS World University Rankings, up from five at present.

The government recently increased funds for the country’s top 37 universities to do this and Hiroshi Hase, MEXT, says he wants to extend Mr. Shimomura’s work.

“MEXT will advance the transformation while considering the progress of the implementation in educational institutions, as it is important that the transformation is accurately realized on site,” he says.

By building networks with U.S. and other foreign universities the hope is to gain a better understanding of the international world but there’s a clear strategy to build on existing Japanese educational processes as well.

It’s a point that Junichi Hamada, former President of The University of Tokyo, explains: “The University of Tokyo actually accepted its structure from the western countries but at the same time we have to maintain the good qualities about Japanese culture and the way we work, innovate technologies, and keep a stable safe society and peace,” he says.

Balancing the educational mix is challenging but Dr. Mikio Yoshida, Chancellor & President of Ritsumeikan University, believes the key is improving education and research.

“In order to achieve such goals, we need to form partnerships with world-class universities, create a university and a campus which will attract excellent faculty, staff and students from all over the world and look to move up the world ranking of universities,” he says.

The Abenomics three-pronged strategy is already in play, and as Osamu Murata, President of Kwansei Gakuin University, highlights, it will be vital to allow the country to power future economic growth. “Japan has no natural resources,” he says, “so the role that human resources will play in the growth strategy of Abenomics is crucial.”