Japan has recognised its first full offshore campus of a foreign university amid sustained pressure from the US for liberalised trade and investment in the Japanese education and health sectors.
Last month, Temple University Japan was officially designated a "foreign university, Japan campus", a new status conferred by the Ministry of Education. It enables TUJ, a branch of Temple University (a state institution based in Philadelphia), to sponsor the visas of international students.
About one third of TUJ's 2,100 students are from overseas.
The Japanese branch of TUJ was established in 1982 in Tokyo. It has operations in Osaka and Fukuoka, and it previously held the lesser designation of "miscellaneous school". The redesignation legitimises credits and degrees earned at TUJ, which means that students can transfer their credits to Japanese institutions and TUJ graduates can apply for enrolment at professional and graduate schools.
To qualify for the new classification, the university had to demonstrate - and the ministry had to accept - that the programmes TUJ offers are the same as those available on its main campus in the US.
What is not quite clear, though, is how the tiny TUJ, its 2,100 students and its handful of programmes equates to Temple in the US, which is one of three comprehensive public research universities in Pennsylvania, with more than 34,000 students and 17 schools and colleges.
Temple is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, and this status is extended to its international branch in Japan, even if international acceptance of US accreditation is still unclear.
The US State Department seems to have provided the impetus for the change in policy of the Japanese Government and the Ministry of Education.
The case of TUJ has often been cited by the Americans as an example of what they refer to as the "closed nature" of university education in Japan. The US has been increasingly aggressive in pushing for trade and investment liberalisation in education and health, either bilaterally or under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. Under the Gats liberalisation regimes, the US plans to expand still further its already dominant status as a net exporter of services in education, especially in the tertiary sector.