Cultivation of pioneering spirits

January 1, 1990

Kyoto’s international strategy promises to spread its creative virtues across the globe, says Hiroshi Matsumoto.

Since its foundation in 1897, Kyoto University has fostered a distinct culture of open-minded dialogue and academic freedom, making significant social contributions and deepening the pool of human knowledge. In the words of the university’s mission statement, it has sought, through its education and research endeavours, to “promote harmonious coexistence within the Earth’s human and ecological community”.

As president of Kyoto, I believe that providing opportunities for students and researchers to form diverse and vibrant relationships with their mentors, peers, even their rivals, is a key nutrient for a fertile academic environment. Our proactive efforts to internationalise our campuses, making them ever more accessible to students and researchers with diverse backgrounds from around the world, are one aspect of tending such fertile ground.

In response to globalisation’s rapid advance, Kyoto has formulated a new international strategy: The 2× by 2020 Initiative (pronounced “Double by twenty-twenty”). It sets specific targets to double the university’s performance in key internationally related indices, such as those concerning student and researcher mobility, multinationally authored academic papers, and the holding of international academic symposia. Through the attainment of such measurable goals, we seek to ensure that our internationalisation continues to progress with stability and a sense of purpose.

As part of 2× by 2020, we are in the process of establishing the Kyoto University Global Academy, a diverse suite of internationally oriented education and research programmes that seek to open the university’s doors ever wider to the global community: providing increased opportunities for overseas students; expanding our cooperative research involvement; and enhancing our contributions to national and international development.

Through the Global Academy and other initiatives, Kyoto is seeking to remove the linguistic and cultural barriers that have long made it difficult for international students to study in Japan.

The number of degree courses we offer in English continues to increase dramatically, and international students are given comprehensive support in their daily lives (including everything from making visa applications to securing accommodation). It is no longer necessary for students to have a vested interest in Japan’s language and culture to obtain a degree from one of the country’s top universities.

Throughout its history, Kyoto’s scholars have been known for their long-term outlook – eschewing transient academic fads and fashions in favour of pursuing knowledge of enduring value. This attitude towards education and research reflects the 1,000-year-old philosophical traditions of Kyoto City itself.

In keeping with that philosophy, the university’s campuses offer a broad-minded and accommodating academic environment where researchers can engage in long-term studies and are encouraged to explore new frontiers in diverse fields.

The effectiveness of this approach to fostering world-class scholarship is testified by the accolades conferred on our alumni and researchers, notably eight Nobel prizes, two Fields medals and one Gauss prize.

Such internationally recognised accomplishments owe a great deal to the university’s distinctive academic style, which encourages the creativity essential for groundbreaking research and discovery.

Another key factor is our state-of-the-art laboratories and research facilities, which provide students and researchers with the hands-on practical experience that is vital to their development as scientists and scholars.

One prominent recent example of the radical breakthroughs encouraged by Kyoto’s unique academic milieu are the achievements of Shinya Yamanaka (pictured above), director of our Center for iPS Cell Research and Application. In 2012, Yamanaka was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his outstanding discoveries in the field of stem-cell research.

Yamanaka’s achievements are remarkable in that they have brought ideas and concepts that were previously outside the realms of recognised science firmly into the fold of scientific possibility: until relatively recently, the concept that adult cells could be genetically “reprogrammed” was not the stuff of science but of science fiction.

Pursuing the realisation of such “pre-scientific possibilities” requires a great deal of courage and conviction. The ability to bring concepts that were previously beyond our grasp into the realms of acknowledged science is a remarkable feat: it requires boldness to dare to reach for that which is as yet unknown.

The cultivation of such a pioneering, adventurous spirit in its students and researchers has been a central goal of Kyoto since its inception and remains so to this day. Now, under the auspices of the 2× by 2020 Initiative, we hope to impart that spirit to ever greater numbers of people across the world.

Hiroshi Matsumoto is president of Kyoto University.

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