City University of Hong KongBeyond Boundaries: increasing diversity in Japanese higher education

Beyond Boundaries: increasing diversity in Japanese higher education

In the fourth episode of CityU’s Beyond Boundaries series, president Way Kuo explored the impact of globalisation at one of Japan’s most prestigious institutions

Japanese academia has a global reputation for success, but it’s a challenging time for the country’s higher education institutions: more than two decades of economic stagnation and falling birth rates have affected university admissions and the scale of development in academia.

For the fourth episode of Beyond Boundaries, a new interview series produced by City University of Hong Kong (CityU), university president Way Kuo met with Hideo Ohno, president of Tohoku University, to learn more.

CityU is an international university that emphasises the integration of research within teaching. The university has a strong focus on diversity in education and it was Kuo’s ambition in making the Beyond Boundaries series to explore some of the emerging challenges facing institutions across the globe.

Meeting with Ohno, Kuo highlighted how, since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan has “completely overhauled its education system, and actually the whole of society”. But in doing so, he asked, has Japanese education been forced to adapt to Western ways of thinking?

“After the Meiji Restoration, the government dispatched a number of the brightest students to Europe to engage in research. They then came back and replaced foreign professors who the government had hired at the time,” Ohno explained. As a result, “there were a number of scientists who came back with revolutionary ideas for the time”.

“[But] people were ready to perform research in a Western context even before the Meiji restoration,” Ohno added.

Tohoku University, and the wider Japanese education sector, is now working to “level up” its internationalisation efforts, Ohno said. One approach taken at Tohoku, partly aimed at attracting international, multidisciplinary talent, involves the development of a new subject: “disaster science”.

“Before this programme, our departments were…very much working individually,” Ohno said. “In order to tackle social issues and challenges we need to combine expertise from various fields…A historian has to tell us what's happened in the past. Medics have to tell us how to contribute, IT also has to implement [change].”

The two university leaders discussed Japan’s “open-door policy”, set up around a decade ago to encourage international students to study in the country.

“In this globalised world, education cannot be domestic,” Ohno said. “In order to give a proper education to those students, regardless of their nationality, you have to have a certain level of ‘globalness’ on campus. That’s what we are aiming at.”

The initiative has so far been successful in diversifying the postgraduate population: around one in four graduate students at Tohoku are international. But more work is needed to recruit undergraduate talent from abroad, Ohno added.

Closing the episode, Kuo concluded that “education is a sophisticated problem” and one that requires multiple solutions from different corners of society. “We should work collaboratively with society, not only in a local environment but on a global scale. We have encountered many challenges; we must overcome them together,” he said.

Find out more about CityU’s Beyond Boundaries series.

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