Prime Minister Abe to Accelerate Internationalisation of Japanese Universities

ABEBy Martin Ince

Japan’s universities will be the big winners in prime minister Shinzo Abe’s push to globalise the nation’s economy and society, according to his remarks at a Mayday meeting of British and Japanese universities that formed a significant part of his recent visit to the UK.

He told a conference of university leaders from the UK and Japan that “the number of foreign students at a university will define its success,” a big statement from the leader of a nation whose institutions are consistently towards the lower end of the rankings on criteria measuring their appeal to international staff and students.

In an address to the event at University College, London, Abe said that while “19 universities in the QS World University Ranking” were represented at the meeting, he was disappointed that fewer Japanese students are studying abroad than a decade earlier. He said that he wanted Japanese employers to value international experience more highly, and added that the government might put money into “a stimulus” for Japanese students to study abroad.

An increase in the number of Japanese students spending part of their academic career abroad would improve Japan’s standing in the QS Asian University Rankings, which use both incoming and outgoing exchange students as a measure of universities’ global appeal. In the new AUR, Tokyo is the top Japanese institution, in 10th place, with Kyoto and Osaka at 12 and 13, modest positions for such a rich and populous nation.

It is notable in these rankings that Tokyo and Kyoto rank 107 and 116 respectively in Asia for inbound exchange students, and 170 and 196 for outbound exchange. Osaka does a little better at 73 for inbound exchange and 49 for outbound.

Horishi Matsumoto, president of Kyoto University, told the conference that the university aims to double all its internationally-centred rankings scores by 2020. As well as exchange students, this would include overseas faculty and overseas students taking full degrees. Tokyo and Kyoto are 159 and 103 in Asia respectively for international faculty, and 57 and 66 for students. This means that there is plenty of scope for improvement.

As one sign of the inward-looking nature of Japanese academe, it has recently been a big news story in Japan that Kyoto might consider a non-Japanese replacement for Matsumoto, who is close to retirement.

UK universities at the meeting vied for supremacy in their claims for the age and depth of their Japanese connections. In the 1860s, UCL itself educated the Choshu 5, a leading group of émigré students who later became the nation’s first prime minister and foreign minister and founded its mint, railway system and industry ministry. More recently, participants learned, Edinburgh has educated two Japanese princesses, while Oxford has made room for three Japanese princes and princesses. As Andrew Hamilton, vice chancellor of the University of Oxford, explained, this means that his university has educated more members of Japanese royal family than of the British one.

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