Times Higher Education on MEXT: “Japan’s entrenched ideas hinder the push to attract more foreign students and staff”


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Hi Blog.  Currently at JALT, so a quick one for today.  In the spirit of education in Japan, here’s an article from Times Higher Education talking about the pull for and push against importing students to fill spaces in Japan’s universities.  Funny they should want more NJ academics — they should give them better jobs.  But after more than a century of  “Academic Apartheid”, not likely.  Arudou Debito


Japan’s open-door policy hinges on an attitude shift
Times Higher Education 14 October 2010, Courtesy of DK
Entrenched ideas hinder drive to attract more foreign students and staff, writes Michael Fitzpatrick


Japan’s move to open its doors wider to foreign students and academics has come up against entrenched practices, budget cuts and a general ambivalence towards true “internationalisation”.

Frequently used as an empty slogan in the expansive years of Japan’s economic growth, internationalisation has once more been chosen as a watchword by the government – this time as the foundation for attempts to revive the country’s moribund education system.

With only two of its institutions appearing in the top 100 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2010-11, Japan’s standing has been adversely affected by a dearth of international students and scholars.

In an attempt to address the issue, the Ministry of Education last year introduced the “Global 30” project, which has set a target for more than 130 undergraduate and graduate courses to be conducted entirely in English by April 2013.

But in the wake of cuts to public spending, the ambitious plan to involve 30 colleges has been whittled down to 13 institutions seen as future “global education hubs”.

As part of the same initiative, Japan has also set a target to increase the number of international students in the country to 300,000 by 2020 from the current figure of 130,000.

From a pot of ¥3.2 billion (£24 million), selected universities will receive ¥200 million to ¥400 million per annum over the next five years to recruit students and lecturers and to help with additional administrative costs.

Participating universities are expected to use these funds to recruit between 3,000 and 8,000 international students.

The scheme also aims to encourage universities to hire more overseas lecturers to teach the new courses. Currently only 3.5 per cent of tutors in Japanese universities are foreigners, and most of these are engaged in teaching English.

Japan is not alone in Asia in its determination to increase the number of foreign students and faculty. China, which has long been one of the world’s largest exporters of students, is pursuing a similar strategy, with its “C9 consortium” of nine research universities tasked with attracting 10 per cent of undergraduate students from other countries.

The Chinese government has made funding available to increase the number of courses taught in English to help participating universities achieve this goal.

In Japan, however, progress has so far been limited, according to Paul Snowden, dean of the School of International Liberal Studies at Waseda University in Tokyo.

“The effort to attract more foreign students is stepping up faster than the effort to attract more faculty,” said Professor Snowden, a Briton who grew up in Essex and is the first foreign dean at a Japanese university.

“Commensurate attempts to attract foreign faculty are not generally made. Waseda as a whole, with its eyes on rising in the world rankings, recognises the principle, but has not yet put it into sufficient practice.”

Island mentality

There are many factors contributing to the formidable barriers that prevent universities beefing up their roster of foreign staff, Professor Snowden said.

State universities do little to help foreign faculty achieve tenure, and recruitment ads are often posted only in Japanese and on obscure government websites. There is also a general reluctance to hire foreigners, as Japanese universities either prefer very long-term commitments or offer only “guest-style” short contracts.

“Attitudes have long been against foreign recruitment, and that needs to change,” Professor Snowden said.

He said it is common to encounter the view: “We’ll only take foreigners of Nobel prize standard – otherwise why should we deprive Japanese people of jobs?”

So far, the recipients of Global 30 funding have all been elite universities.

However, smaller colleges that see the educational merits of international liberal arts-type courses are also introducing foreign students to their own campuses and encouraging – or even making compulsory – a period of overseas study for their home students.

With initiatives of this kind running in parallel to the government-sponsored project, “even though the figure of 300,000 is unlikely to be reached, at least numbers will rise”, Professor Snowden said.


10 comments on “Times Higher Education on MEXT: “Japan’s entrenched ideas hinder the push to attract more foreign students and staff”

  • Haven’t we heard this before with tourism, foreign nurses, etc.? The gov’t says they want more, yet they have made the country as unwelcoming as ever. Can an entire nation be put on medication for Bi-polar disorder?

  • This is not as simple as it sounds (about the students part).First, even if they get 学費免除 due to the money given by the government, foreign students still have to make living in Japan-appartments, rent, food and everything else. And with the current discrimination by landlords and employers, this will be very, very hard, especially if you don’t receive Monbusho scholarship.
    Another thing is that obviously once the student is accepted, even if they are scholarship grantees, they get zero attention from the government on how they are treated and what kind of education they receive, what kind of research they are doing. Indeed, the advisor (a faculty member) sends annual reports on student’s acheivements, but only this. Student’s opinion is never asked, nor are they asked about any difficulties they face in their studies, research, life.The government never really checks how the university handles these government sponsored students, are really the money spent for these students, what is the quality of education they receive. Some students are accepted only to find out that they are keeping alive an unpopular among Japanese students and unwilling to change department with outdated educational programs and ineffective methods of education and research.
    Cultural conflicts not only between Japanese and foreign students, but between foreign students from different countries are very serious yet still ignored issue, which hampers the study/research process.In both universities I’ve been Asian students were overwhelming majority, and there were many, really many complaints against them from non-Asian students. Yet such conflicts were simply swept under the carpet,which led to withdrawal of non-Asian students.Many quite capable students chose to continue their education in another country for that reason.
    Unless these problems are resolved, japan will become less and less attractive country for students (especially since EU universities offer cheap, or even free excellent programs).

  • “We’ll only take foreigners of Nobel prize standard – otherwise why should we deprive Japanese people of jobs?”

    Hehe. I don’t think there are many Nobel prize winners clamoring to get jobs in Japanese universities. With all the horror stories now made public knowledge via the internet (and your good work Debito) of academic discrimination based on race/nationality, reneged promises, rules lawyering about job titles, what possible reason would they have for coming?

  • “Attitudes have long been against foreign recruitment, and that needs to change” vs “We’ll only take foreigners of Nobel prize standard – otherwise why should we deprive Japanese people of jobs?”… reminds me of the Olympic athletes in Japan. As a rule, those who had NJ coaches in their disciplines in the past brought home medals. Those who had J-coaches often returned early from games lamenting that they just weren’t in the world-class league demanded by international competition. They trained against locals and benchmarked themselves accordingly, while those who lived, trained and were tutored overseas by seasoned NJ experts had a totally different cosmic view. And a totally different idea of what “international” and world class meant.

    Having read Debito’s pieces on J-Academia and his advice for those considering a career there, I concur: “Don’t!”

  • Seems to working for me, but here is the very brief article:


    Japan Opts to ‘Restructure’ Key University Internationalization Project
    November 19, 2010, 12:24 pm

    Japan is preparing to ax the Global 30 program, a cornerstone of its strategy to internationalize higher education. The government’s Budget Review Committee, which is trying to slash costs in a bid to trim the country’s runaway public debt, voted this week to abolish and “restructure” the project. Started last year with a budget of roughly $38-million, the project envisioned supporting a group of “core” universities to “dramatically” increase the number of international students in Japan and Japanese students studying abroad, according to the Ministry of Education. However, the program has gotten off to a slow start. The ministry’s strict selection process meant that just 13 elite universities made the initial grade. And government cuts have already shaved up to 30 percent from the budget allocated to each institution for the program. The decision has been greeted with dismay by administrators and academics. “This government is destroying Japan,” said Go Yoshida, a professor with the Office of International Strategic Planning at Nagoya University, which is one of the 13 selected universities.

  • I think that rather than offering studies in English, why not make it easier for people who know Japanese to study in Japan? Outside of the Monbusho, I can’t think of a single way to study in Japan and not severely deplete your savings (if you are luck enough to have the money in the first place). Just looking at the JLPT statistics, there are literally tens of thousands of people who are either fluent enough for college work with some support (1-kyuu or N1) or can be brought to fluency easily (2-kyuu or N2). No doubt many of these people are working and studying in Japan already, but considering how many people take the JLPT overseas, it shows that there is no lack of foreigners with an interest in Japan. The two simplest and most effective things that could be done to bring in international students are to provide many more scholarships and to make entering colleges as a foreigner easier. For example, in Japanese colleges require entrance exams for normal students (as opposed to English-tracked foreign students at colleges like Sophia) – in order to do that as a foreigner, you’d have to fly to Japan to take them, and since very little info or support on the entrance exams is around outside of Japan, you’d be at a serious disadvantage even then. Even with Japanese ability, obstacles to entry are very high.

    The Global 30 was a terrible idea and needed to be axed. All it would do is bring in token foreigners who couldn’t speak the language and wouldn’t have any effect on Japan as they would end up living in an ex-pat bubble. MIT and Harvard don’t offer complete separate programs in Chinese or Hindi as far as I know, why should Todai, Waseda and Keio offer a separate English track? Isn’t that just a way of avoiding integrating foreigners?

  • In response to Adam

    I think that the Global 30 is (or was!) addressing a different shortfall. World university rankings (such as the THES survey) increasingly rate the mobility of international faculty at institutions as well as the global impact of research publications. Given that Japanese is not really a world language then, rightly or wrongly, recruitment of NJ faculty, researchers and students has to be more open to other language speakers (essentially English) to improve ratings and publications. A bit cynical perhaps, but part of the political minefield that is global English. That’s quite aside from the demographic problems of a a declining domestic student intake, which could be improved in the way you suggest.
    I agree the Global 30 was disheartening as it rewarded the same old national elite. I do wonder what will replace it.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Adam, are you from the UK? On this point:

    Outside of the Monbusho, I can’t think of a single way to study in Japan and not severely deplete your savings (if you are luck enough to have the money in the first place).

    …my opinion, from the perspective of an American, is the opposite. National universities (which are at the top in Japan) are significantly cheaper than the Ivy League schools; tuition is under ¥600,000 per year. That’s downright cheap compared to what you’d pay at Harvard or Princeton, and even cheaper than an average-level state school, to say nothing of the “public ivy” state schools that are also highly regarded.

    ¥50,000 per month is quite doable if you have a decent amount of paid work. You’ll get your graduate degree without burdening yourself with the kind of debt that an US university would put you in.

    (Dormitories are also a lot cheaper. I know people staying in high-quality places for ¥5000 per month in Tokyo!)

    They could certainly make it easier to enter, though — how about offering entrance exams online or by mail? Video interviews could be conducted for the oral sections. And there are plenty of part-time university-related jobs that foreign students could be placed in to pay their way once they arrive. Limiting the pool of foreign students to people already in Japan is, as you’ve said, not effective.

  • Related article:

    Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010

    Foreign dentists, nurses get easier visa durations
    Kyodo News

    The Justice Ministry on Tuesday revised an ordinance concerning residence visas, lifting restrictions for foreign dentists, nurses, maternity nurses and health workers who have passed Japan’s qualification requirements.

    The step, which abolished limits on the duration and scope in which they can work in the country, was taken on the grounds that Japan needs to accept a broad range of foreigners with specialized skills to cope with the declining birthrate and rapidly aging population.

    The revision allows foreign nurses and health workers without permanent resident status to continue working in medical institutions beyond the designated number of years. It also paves the way for foreign dentists to open their own clinics in urban areas and work at private clinics.

    Until now, the ordinance limited the duration that foreigners could work under medical practitioner visas after obtaining Japanese qualifications to six years for dentists, seven years for nurses, and four years for maternity nurses and health workers.

    It also only allowed foreign dentists to work as long as they were doing clinical studies at university hospitals and to work beyond the designated number of years only if they practiced in remote areas designated by the justice minister.

    Abolishing the work visa restrictions was one of the agenda items cited in the government’s fourth basic plan on immigration set in March. The six-year working limits for foreign doctors was lifted in June 2006.


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