The University of Tokyo: Tradition and innovation in sync

January 1, 1990

6 October 2012

Despite its successes, the University of Tokyo will not rest on its laurels. Junichi Hamada discusses how Todai looks forwards and back to build for the future

For the second year running, the University of Tokyo (known colloquially as "Todai" in Japan) has been recognised by its peers as one of the top 10 universities in the world by reputation. This global recognition of Todai's commitment to excellent teaching and research is hugely gratifying.

Our reputation as Japan's leading university is unquestioned. It is built on Todai's long tradition of educating the nation's political, industrial, scientific and cultural elite, and its role as a key route for acquiring Western learning, the route by which Japan became the first non-Western developed state. Today our alumni continue to occupy the highest offices across all fields of endeavour in Japan - and increasingly Asia and beyond.

Our global reputation is a more recent phenomenon, based in part on Japan's technological and economic success: the technology powering an increasingly connected world would not be possible without Japanese expertise, often nurtured at Todai. That reputation is principally based on our strong and independent faculties, graduate schools and institutes, which are at the vanguard of their fields. There is no one single Todai: there are many Todais, and this freedom and autonomy drives our creativity.

But this is no time to rest on our laurels. Despite many international- exchange agreements and close relations with several partners around the world, we have yet to reach our full potential on the international stage.

On my inauguration as president in April 2009, I set out my strategic vision for the university as an "Action Scenario". I believe that the university must act as a repository of humanity's knowledge across generations, but that knowledge must be jointly created and held with society. Todai must build closer ties with our many communities, local and global, to open access to our accumulated knowledge and to provide us with greater access to human and creative resources. We must maintain academic vigour in research and education, and further enhance our teaching skills to keep up with rapidly changing times. We must increase our agility in the face of change and reinforce governance and compliance by improving the professional skills of our administrators. Most importantly, we must instil Todai students with intellectual toughness and personal resilience by providing a stimulating and challenging learning environment.

Our foremost strategy for achieving these aims is the creation of a global campus open to Japan and the world - a key part of the international educational community linking all universities, faculty and students.

Yet at the same time, we remain true to our roots. One of Todai's greatest assets is our liberal-arts programme in which all undergraduates spend their first two years. Building on this strong foundation, in October Todai will launch Programs in English at Komaba (Peak) at its College of Arts and Sciences, which will provide new undergraduate degrees taught entirely in English. Increasing numbers of international students and faculty will have the benefit of further invigorating research and education on campus for our domestic students while supporting one of our most important objectives - nurturing intellectually resilient global citizens with cross-cultural sensibilities. We are committed to providing all of our students with significant international experiences during their undergraduate studies, including study abroad, internship or volunteering programmes.

This will be easier if Todai fits the international academic calendar, so we are considering moving our university entrance from spring to autumn. The timing of the admissions process would remain the same, but the period between high school graduation and university entrance would create a "gap term" for undergraduates to participate in a wide range of experiences to develop their personal resilience and hone awareness of their own strengths and interests.

Todai is recognised as being at the cutting edge across the spectrum of research. In addition to our faculties and graduate schools, our institutes take an interdisciplinary approach to the most pressing issues facing humanity today and the most fundamental questions in research. Several of these, including the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, are world leaders in their fields despite their youth, and are home to many international researchers.

The Japanese attach great importance to tradition and Todai is a true Japanese citizen. But to remain at the forefront of Japanese education and research while standing shoulder to shoulder with the other leading universities of the world, we must also have the courage to take drastic action and to lead change in our country.

Todai is determined to remain one of the world's top universities for generations to come, to continue to excel at research and to act as a global campus educating global citizens capable of building a sustainable society.

Junichi Hamada is president of the University of Tokyo.

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