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Japanese universities find solutions to global problems

Feb 21, 2017

Facing tough challenges, such as an aging population and a shrinking workforce, Japan is seen as one of the first countries to encounter problems that will beset other developed economies. The situation has brought about an opportunity to find solutions and to propose new growth models for the rest of the world to follow.

Japanese universities play a key role in this task and are well aware of their influence on policy-making.

Like Momoyama Gakuin, Japan’s universities are steadfast in their mission to raise a new breed of global students.

“We have to be attentive to global changes and what current society is faced with. We have to create solutions for existing problems and show new options. Japanese universities have to take in good practices from all over the world and adapt them to Japanese society,” said Toyota Technological Institute President Dr. Hiroyuki Sakaki.

Becoming aware of the importance of having a global outlook, TTI sends one-third of its graduate students on internships abroad. “For our graduates to serve as the next techno-industrial leaders, we let our students think about global missions and international opportunities,” he added.

Yokohama National University President Yuichi Hasebe shares similar beliefs.

Established in 1876, YNU has formulated solutions to problems faced by the cosmopolitan city and its prefecture, Kanagawa, by integrating multidisciplinary and cross-border knowledge.

“We do particularly well in IT. I plan to further strengthen our studies in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences so we have a wider interdisciplinary approach. We also want to collaborate with our counterparts in China, India and other fast-growing economies in Asia,” Hasebe explained.

Another school in the city, Yokohama City University, is committed to educating global citizens by expanding its student exchange program, particularly with partners in Asia and Europe. Currently, YCU has 38 partner institutions from around the world. As part of its long term goal, YCU plans to focus on establishing more partnerships with universities in Asia.

While the international exposure will help its students in their future careers, YCU also hopes that the knowledge gained abroad by students will contribute to the city’s development, especially in the fields of medicine and science.

“At the same time, we also want to invite more international students to come to Japan. YCU is an attractive school as it is ranked second by Times Higher Education among small universities in Japan,” said YCU President Yoshinobu Kubota.

To fulfill its goal of increasing outbound and inbound students, YCU has set up the International Academic Consortium for Sustainable Cities (IACSC) in 2009, to continue establishing relationships with more universities and institutions.

Even specialized Japanese universities, such as Showa University and St. Marianna University School of Medicine, cannot ignore the importance of internationalization.

Showa University, one of Japan’s top comprehensive medical universities, started its foreign exchange programs nearly 40 years ago. But, especially in the last five years the school has aggressively promoted student exchanges to satisfy its students’ demand.

“Although there was a decline in Japanese students going abroad, we see that the interest is increasing again recently. A large portion of our students wants to study abroad, so we are working hard to establish memoranda of understanding with universities,” said Showa University President Ryohei Koide. Currently, Showa University’s international reach includes 28 institutions in 15 countries, including the United States, Madagascar and Egypt.

The university also has a post-graduate fellowship program that allows young medical professionals (doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses) and researchers to receive free additional training in Japan. This program also offers free housing and, for about half of the fellows, a monthly stipend. In the last 35 years, over 900 international research fellows have participated in the program.

“We want to share our techniques and technology to future leaders who can educate other medical practitioners around the world. Fellows may go back to their home country to share knowledge they have acquired. As it is open to everybody, the program also helps us gauge the medical level and culture of many countries and learn from them. With this, we hope to cultivate the next generation of leaders,” Koide also said.

Meanwhile, in the last six years, St. Marianna University School of Medicine began foreign exchange programs with universities and institutions in China, Korea and the United States. Chairman Katsuya Akashi hopes to increase the number of partner schools in the next few years.

“We are actually searching for more universities to communicate with. We hope to send our students anywhere in the world to gain experience as long as it’s safe,” Akashi said.

Apart from expanding its international partnerships, the university is also internationalizing its curriculum.

“With the encouragement of MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology), we saw the need to match our curriculum according to global standards. Although our knowledge and skills are up to par, work still needs to be done in relation to breaking language barriers in order to collaborate more easily with other parts of the world,” explained Akashi.

Despite the drive to globalize, Japanese universities have not abandoned their roots as they see themselves as emissaries of a country with a unique culture and timeless values that can benefit the world. 

In March 2015, 23 Momoyama Gakuin University students visited the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles and the University of California- Irvine as part of the university’s KAKEHASHI Project.

“They prepared a presentation designed to help others understand the real Japan. Kakehashi means ‘a bridge connecting to the world’ and our students try to be the link between Japan and other countries,” explained Momoyama Gakuin University President Dr. Ninako Makino.

Momoyama Gakuin University also has outreach programs that promote Japanese goodwill.

“We have various programs that help local communities at home and abroad. For example, some of our students visit rural Indonesia to help local people build new homes, while others go to Inner Mongolia to assist in tree–planting to hold back desertification. Here in Japan, some students have provided aid following earthquakes, while others use their business management skills to support local women farmers.” Makino said.

For the head of Tokyo International University, the mission of promoting Japanese values is a priority. Chancellor Nobuyasu Kurata pays special attention to instilling kotokushin or civic-mindedness among the students.

“Six years ago when the big earthquake hit Japan, we did not see people storming the stores and stealing from one another. Instead, people came to serve and help one another. This I believe is because of kotokushin. Instead of competition and fierce rivalry, everyone thinks of harmony and contributing to society,” Kurata said.

“This philosophy is very important. It is meant to defy barriers, whether they be of race, religion or gender. This will help nurture our students to become truly internationally minded leaders,” he added.

Along with several universities in Japan, TIU welcomes students from all parts of the world.

Kurata said, “It is our sincere hope that students who come to study at TIU will learn our philosophies, and go back and work for international communities as global leaders.”

Japan 2017 was prepared for and originally printed in magazine.

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