Hi Blog. Some very good articles in the Yomiuri on just how far behind Japan’s universities are in attracting foreign students. And how Japanese companies aren’t willing to hire them (We’ve discussed this briefly here before.) Plus how Japanese universities treat certain nationalities of students differently, and some signs of Japanese students’ exodus for education overseas. Good reading. Arudou Debito in Haneda
The scramble for foreign students ( 1/ 2)
As global competition to attract the brightest students intensifies, some Japanese universities are keen to lure foreign students who would otherwise aspire to attend prestigious universities in English-speaking countries. But this is not an easy task. In this installment of the “Currents” series, The Daily Yomiuri examines the challenges confronting Japanese higher educational institutions.
Mariko Bock, a 19-year-old U.S. student, originally from Indiana and currently enrolled at Waseda University’s School of International Liberal Studies (SILS), is pursuing her dream to become a journalist and work as a correspondent in Japan, her mother’s country.
“I came to the university as I’m able to continue to study in English, but take courses that are taught in Japanese as well,” Bock said.
She says her purposes for coming to Japan are being fulfilled, but that she sometimes feels frustrated by the low level of the classes.
“The level of English in some classes is disappointing. This is probably because SILS is still new, not all the professors are accustomed to teaching in English, and many Japanese students who do not have overseas experience or English education are not so fluent in English when they are in their first year or so,” Bock said.
While the school has been increasingly attracting both Japanese and foreign students, SILS Associate Dean Graham Law admitted there was still progress to be made, and predicted it might take a decade or so to perfect. “It’s a long-term project,” he said.
Waseda established the school in 2004 as one way for the 126-year-old university to tackle the looming crisis posed by the nation’s declining birthrate and intensified international competition to attract top-notch students.
“The number of Japanese students has almost halved since the early 1990s,” said Waseda University Vice President Katsuichi Uchida, who played a leading role in its establishment. “Even though Waseda enjoys a reputation as one of the top private universities in this country, it’s necessary to get good students from outside Japan in order to keep the academic level of the university steady.”
Aiming to make Waseda a world-class university, and a leader in the Asia-Pacific region, the school teaches all courses in English, striving to equip students with the ability to analyze, interpret and act upon any issue–a kind of training that is often lacking at Japanese universities.
The number of foreign students has gradually increased and in the 2007 academic year, 214 international students entered SILS, accounting for about 30 percent of the 757 new students at the school.
Waseda had the largest number of foreign students of any Japanese university–about 2,400 as of May 2007–but that number accounts for less than 5 percent of the 57,000 undergraduate and graduate students at the university.
Uchida said the university hopes to increase the number to 8,000 by strengthening its Japanese-language program for foreign students.
Although prestigious universities like Tokyo, Waseda and Keio have made efforts to attract foreign students, Japanese universities in general struggle to attract students from abroad, many commentators say.
David Satterwhite, the executive director of the Japan-United States Educational Commission, better known as the Fulbright Program, is one of those concerned.
“The crisis is real,” Satterwhite said. “Japanese universities have traditionally been very slow to change… Traditional elements of Japanese education, such as the administration system, are hindering the internationalization.”
Having lived in Japan for more than 35 years, Satterwhite believes Japanese higher education is now at a critical juncture. The country’s population is declining and aging, while its economy continues to struggle, and is under pressure from the burgeoning rivalry of China. In such an environment, many Japanese wonder where the country’s next generation of leaders will come from.
“The Japanese university system has provided for the needs of Japan, [but has] not been placing people or competing on a global scale,” Satterwhite said. “[We need] more courses taught in English, user-friendly support structure…also faculty who are more attuned to an international outlook.”
Left behind in global rankings
Japanese universities lag far behind internationally acclaimed U.S. and British colleges in global university rankings.
In the 2007 Times Higher Education-Quacquarelli Symonds (THE-QS) World University Rankings, one of the most closely watched college league tables, Harvard University held onto top spot, with Cambridge, Oxford and Yale just behind.
Far down the list, Japanese universities finally start appearing, with Tokyo University and Kyoto University ranked 17th and 25th, respectively.
In the ranking, which assesses universities under six criteria, Tokyo University got high scores in “Peer review” and “Employer review,” but scored quite low for numbers of International staff and students.
Global competition to attract the best students is fierce particularly in the science and engineering fields, as winning them brings not only fresh insights and perspectives to universities, but also could bring technological breakthrough for their host nations.
Britain and the United States have so far been winners because of their language advantage and handsome scholarship programs, among other reasons. English-speaking countries, such as Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa have also wooed foreign students.
Among the non-English-speaking countries to do well is South Korea, whose universities have increased the number of lectures conducted in English to accommodate overseas students.
According to the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, in 2006, 12 U.S. universities jointly organized a tour to Japan, China and South Korea to promote their colleges to Asian students. In Britain that year, then Prime Minister Tony Blair set a goal of bringing an additional 100,000 international students to the country by 2011.
The British government’s Chevening Scholarships have been a key element of that drive. Believing that attracting foreign students will have future economic and diplomatic benefits for Britain, the program, which began in 1983, supports about 1,750 students from more than 120 countries each year. All the students are identified as possible future leaders in their fields, according to the British Council Japan.
For the past few years, China and India have won the largest number of the scholarships. In 2007, 145 Chinese students each received an average of about 15,000 pounds (about 3 million yen), which included master’s course fees and living costs for a year.
The United States’ commitment to attracting overseas students is seen in the long-established Fulbright Program.
Although the scholarship differs depending on the origin of students, it supports nearly 3,000 students from about 150 nations. In Japan, the Fulbright Program says its alumni include Nobel physics laureate Masatoshi Koshiba and former U.N. Undersecretary General Yasushi Akashi–two examples that demonstrate its function of nurturing leaders with connections to the United States.
Unique project big attraction
Compared with U.S. and British efforts, is the Japanese government doing enough to attract international students?
According to statistics compiled by the Japan Student Services Organization, the number of overseas students in Japan steadily increased until 2005, when it reached a record 121,812. The number has since declined, hitting 118,498 in 2007.
About 10,000 foreign students get government-funded grants, said Yuichi Oda, deputy director of the Office for Student Exchange of the ministry’s Student Service Division, adding that the government is well aware of the need to increase both the amount of grants and the number of students who receive them.
So how can Japan, a non-English-speaking nation, differentiate itself from other countries in the competition for students?
“Japanese universities need to work on their self-branding, in other words, raising their international profile,” Oda said. “But boosting name recognition isn’t enough.”
Japan needs to promote its educational institutes on the basis of their original research, capitalizing on the unrivaled reputation that some universities have in their fields.
One such study is “Secure-Life Electronics,” a project led by Prof. Kazuo Hotate, dean of Tokyo University’s School of Engineering.
The project involves about 130 doctoral students, who are working on various cutting-edge electronic engineering studies under a shared theme–safer lifestyles.
One of the project’s research centers, Hotate’s laboratory specializes in developing fiber-optic nerve systems with various uses. These systems can be embedded in bridges and aircraft wings, for example, allowing the structures to sense damage and provide an alert.
The Secure-Life project’s unique concept has already attracted many overseas students. Of about 130 doctoral students, about 50 come from abroad, representing such countries as China, Vietnam and Spain, to name but a few, according to Hotate.
Under the ministry’s two grant programs–21st Century COE (Center of Excellence) and Global COE–Hotate’s project will have received about 3.2 billion yen in total, mainly spent on the education and support of doctoral students, including an average of about 150,000 yen each month in financial assistance for about 80 doctoral students who do not receive any other financial aid. The system–still quite rare in Japanese graduate schools–also covers overseas students.
Hotate describes his course as “completely internationalized,” saying, “We seldom write theses or do research in Japanese.”
Return on investment
However, if Japan really wants to attract good foreign students, it must also help students develop their careers after graduation, according to experts.
“For international students, studying abroad is an investment,” said Lim Poh Soon, project manager of the International Strategy Research Group at the Mitsubishi Research Institute Inc. “It’s really important for them to see prospects for getting return–a job.”
Lim says a lack of employment support for international students has been responsible for turning good students away from Japan.
According to a survey of students from Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries conducted for the Foreign Ministry in 2003 by the Mitsubishi Research Institute, 27.4 percent said Japan should improve internship and employment support for foreign students.
“Besides the lack of support from the government, most Japanese firms don’t have a system to help overseas students get a job,” said Lim, who was involved in the survey. “While they say ‘We need international students and hope they will apply to us for a job,’ the country’s job entry system is so complicated that many of the international students give up on applying.”
Lim emphasized the need for a strategy on overseas students, involving cooperation between policy-side (government), supply-side (universities) and demand-side (companies). Without such a strategy, it will be difficult to win the competition for talented people, he said.
With this in mind, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry this summer will launch an internship program for overseas students. Aimed at helping overseas students obtain employment in Japan, the ministry plans to send them to about 400 firms, mainly small or midsize firms in Tokyo, Osaka and Aichi prefectures.
“Many Japanese firms say they’re reluctant to hire international students because they might not understand Japanese corporate culture,” Tatsuhiro Ishikawa, at the ministry’s Foreign Workers Affairs Division, said. “But offering such firms an opportunity to work with international students, even for a short period, might help promote understanding between them.”
Target of 300,000 set
Last month, the education ministry issued a draft of its basic educational promotion program, which declares its determination to take concrete measures to increase the number of overseas students studying in Japan to about 300,000 by 2020.
But it has yet to indicate how it plans to triple their number.
“The education ministry is working with the foreign, justice, economy and health ministries to review various aspects that affect the life of overseas students, including visa and job applications, to reach the target,” Oda says.
And he is clear about why the target matters, saying, “Increasing the number of such students is vital for Japanese society…as we need the benefits they can bring us.”
The scramble for foreign students ( 2/ 2)
Chinese students shun Japan for practical, historical reasons
About 70,000 Chinese are studying at Japanese universities, comprising by far the single biggest group among the nation’s 120,000 international students. But Homare Endo, an adviser to Teikyo University Group who has served as a counselor for Chinese students in Japan since the early 1980s, says the cream of China’s students tend to go to the United States or Europe.
According to Endo, many Chinese students opt for these English-speaking destinations because they offer better opportunities to refine their skills in the language–a great advantage for job seekers and those hoping to start their own business.
Another important reason, Endo says, is the prestige that a degree from a university in the West holds among many Chinese. Japanese university degrees, by contrast, are respected by researchers, but have much lower standing among the general public, she says.
Endo suggested this stemmed partly from deep-rooted public sentiment about Japan among Chinese people. “Anti-Japanese sentiment resulting from this country’s history of aggression toward China is still prevalent in Chinese society,” said Endo, 67, who was born in China and spent her childhood in the country.
“Most Japanese universities are trying hard to improve their academic and research standards in order to attract international students,” she said. “But when it comes to the issue [of public sentiment], there’s nothing that the universities can do. I think the diplomatic relationship is much more important in this regard. ”
But the anti-Japanese sentiment in China is mirrored by anti-Chinese feeling in Japan. In part, this stems from the illegal employment of Chinese people coming to Japan on student visas–a problem that first began in the 1980s, and has since become the fixed image of Chinese students among many Japanese people, according to Endo.
A survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and Gallup Inc. in December 2007, showed strong distrust of China among Japanese people, with 74 percent of respondents saying they were suspicious of the country.
“There is an open contempt for Asian students, especially Chinese, at universities in Japan,” Endo said. “I’ve seen professors condemning Chinese students for not being fluent in Japanese, while being happy to speak English with Westerners who could not speak Japanese, for example.”
Concerning what individual universities can do to change the situation, Endo said they needed to become more progressive. “As many Chinese students hope to enter the business world after returning to China, collaboration between industries and universities will be key to attracting good students,” Endo said. “But many professors have been reluctant to go down that road, and such people often hinder efforts by colleagues at the same university to attract good students from around the world.”
“Japan has really good, advanced technologies, but that’s not enough,” Endo said. “Countries that have an open-minded culture are more likely to attract international students. If Japanese universities, or Japanese society, can’t break out of the traditional conservative mentality, they are going to find it really hard to prosper in a globalized world.”
World’s top colleges no longer seem remote to young
It was probably an ordinary chemistry class for the British students, but it was far from normal for Tomoki Otani. In fact, it turned out to be a life-changing experience for the 16-year-old Japanese boy.
“There were only eight students in the class! Each of them brought their own experiment kit to the class. Not only that, but they also were allowed to plan their own experiments,” Otani said, recalling the class at Whitgift School just outside London, where he attended a two-week summer program organized by Urawa High School in Saitama Prefecture.
In most Japanese schools, only teachers conduct experiments. The students–numbering about 40 for an average class–only get to watch from a distance.
“In England, even at high school level, the way of teaching and studying is so different from Japan, and I naturally thought the same would be true of universities there,” he said.
Otani eventually decided to seek enrollment at Cambridge University, one of the world’s most prestigious universities–a decision that he says probably had its origins in that chemistry class at Whitgift.
Now 20, Otani will this autumn start a new life at Peterhouse College, Cambridge University’s oldest and smallest college, after being accepted to read Natural Sciences.
He becomes one of a growing number of high school students who directly enter the best colleges and universities in English-speaking countries, eschewing top-notch Japanese options such as Tokyo University.
Otani decided to go back to Whitgift to take an International Baccalaureate (IB) course for a year–a courageous decision as he says his English was not great at the time.
He ended up staying for yet another year after going back to Urawa High School to obtain his Japanese high school diploma–a difficult step, as the stay in Britain had left him behind his classmates.
Urawa High School, known as one of the best schools in the prefecture, sent about 30 students to Tokyo University this spring, and Otani felt mounting pressure watching his friends start their college life in Japan while he persevered with his attempt to get into Cambridge.
Staying in Japan to seek entry to a Japanese university would definitely have been a safer course of action than studying to enter a British university, he says. Agonizing over his best course of action, Otani thought about applying to several Japanese universities that accept IB scores, in addition to British universities.
But his worries proved groundless when he received the happy news that he had been accepted by Cambridge in January this year.
The striking thing about the trend that Otani represents is that these students are so-called jun japa–Japanese whose parents are both Japanese and who never lived abroad as a child.
“Students nowadays compare universities in Japan and abroad to find the best place to pursue their studies,” said Naoki Kadonaga, who heads the International Department of Shibuya Senior & Junior High School in Tokyo, which also has witnessed the trend.
The high school was chosen as one of the Super English Language High Schools designated in 2005 as a part of the Education, Science and Technology Ministry’s program that offers three-year grants to schools focusing on English education.
All the Shibuya students take essay writing classes to develop their ability to think and write logically in English about social issues. After school hours, native English speakers provide classes to those hoping to get into overseas universities. In such classes, they study for the Scholastic Assessment Tests required for entry to some overseas universities, and learn how to write applications.
Thanks to such efforts, the school sends three to four students every year to overseas universities, including Harvard University, and some of them have been jun japa students. “Students these days have a much wider vision than before. For them, studying at overseas universities is no longer out of the ordinary,” Kadonaga added.
But the trend also has its negative side, according to Masayasu Morita, president and chief executive officer of hitomedia, inc.
“There is a talent drain. Japanese society is failing to make use of its best and brightest, so such people are going abroad. This isn’t just a failing of Japanese universities, but a failing of Japanese society as a whole,” Morita said.
Having studied at Harvard, Cambridge and the University of California, Berkeley, Morita has written “Todai yori Harvard ni Iko!?” (Let’s go to Harvard University rather than Tokyo University!?)–a book intended to encourage more Japanese to see Harvard as an option.
“Kids need to have dreams. Society should make them aware of the great and wonderful options that exist. There’s a whole world across the ocean with money movers like [Donald] Trump or [Andrew] Carnegie!” Morita said of global-level opportunities open to young Japanese.
Otani is still thinking about what to do after graduation from Cambridge, admitting that he never had a settled goal as a child. “My childhood dreams changed all the time, from sushi chef to police officer or pilot,” he says, but adding that he currently wants to work for an international organization, hoping to give back some of what he will have learned.
Now only four months are left before he starts his new life–a departure that he never imagined as a child.
“I made up my mind after considering the [advantages of] the British education system and the possible risks. Now I’m happy with my decision to go to Cambridge.”