Tokyo keen to raise global science profile

March 16, 2007

Financial freedom to build foreign links is key to academic prestige, writes Nobuko Hara

Tokyo University is on a mission to strengthen its international profile and "establish itself as a hub for sustainability science", Hiroshi Komiyama, its president, told The Times Higher this week.

"Tokyo University is arguably the best in Japan but is not known outside," Professor Komiyama said.

Three years ago, the university became an "independent" entity - free from state control - giving it greater financial flexibility to build new facilities and to forge strategic ties with institutions across the world.

With two years left to run in his presidency, Professor Komiyama said he hoped to use that flexibility to make Tokyo a world force.

Already, the university has established links with Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Berkeley and Beijing universities and five other leading institutions to form the International Alliance of Research Universities.

In collaboration with these universities, and others if necessary, Professor Komiyama plans to harness the broad range of disciplines his university covers to conduct research on health, the environment, energy and other problems confronting the world.

"It would be difficult for us to do this on our own. That's why international networking is important," he said.

Currently, Tokyo's international profile is limited. Some 1.6 per cent of undergraduates, 11.7 per cent of postgraduates and 1.4 per cent of researchers were foreign nationals in 2005. This led to the decision to create new housing to attract overseas researchers. There is also a plan to create scholarships for overseas students.

In contrast to other universities in Japan, denationalisation has put Tokyo in a stronger financial position despite the Government's cuts. It opened up avenues for new sources of finance, including endowments, and its domestically unrivalled prestige has clearly worked to its advantage.

The ?95 billion (£422 million) the university receives in government subsidies, less than half its annual expenditure of about 193 billion, will continue to be reduced by 1 per cent for two more years. However, Professor Komiyama was confident that he would be able to raise between ?50 billion and ?100 billion in the next two years. This would give his office ?4 billion a year to spend on strategic measures such as internationalisation, he said.

Above all, Professor Komiyama said he wanted to attract more foreign undergraduates. "They will learn to speak Japanese," he said. But he said the university also planned to offer more courses in English, which was likely to fuel demand for more English-speaking faculty members.

In the meantime, Professor Komiyama maintained that universities in non-English-speaking countries were seriously handicapped in global rankings.

Tokyo is 19th in The Times Higher 's 2006 table and 16th in Newsweek's.

"Last summer, the president of EPFL Lausanne congratulated me on being the only non-Anglo-Saxon university to be in the top 20 in Newsweek's ranking,"

he said. Bar two Japanese and two Swiss institutions, its top 30 contains only British and North American universities, he added.

"I think academically we are at the top globally," he said. But clearly, there is room for internationalisation at Tokyo - if only to provide cultural diversity for his own students, he said.

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