Contributing solutions to the world’s common challenges

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Contributing solutions to the world’s common challenges

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Hirofumi Hirano, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology

With our long held shared values and interests, the United States and Japan are close partners in addressing together novel global issues the international community faces: international financial and economic crises, climate change, energy challenges, and so on

At first, I wish to express my sincerest gratitude for the stalwart support we in Japan received from the United States when the Great East Japan Earthquake disaster struck, ranging from large-scale rescue efforts by the United States military in “Operation Tomodachi” to the thousands of messages of support from American citizens. Owing to the efforts of the many parties involved, I am pleased to report that classes at all universities have reopened to normal instruction schedules and that the many international students in Japan are able to pursue their studies calmly and safely.

It is a source of pride for us that higher education in Japan enjoys a high international reputation. In addition to the government’s sensible system for ensuring educational quality by maintaining high standards for granting approval for the establishment and accreditation of institutions of higher learning in Japan, educational reform is constantly undertaken along with many outstanding and diverse educational and research activities.

Formal university education in Japan began more than 100 years ago, and, since that time, a world-class educational and research environment has been created with academic freedom guaranteed by the Japanese Constitution. Particularly in the field of the natural sciences, Japan’s international competitiveness ranks with that of the United States and Europe. Joint international research is also flourishing at Japanese universities. This has been evidenced by the fact that Japan has produced 16 Nobel Prize laureates in the natural sciences. In the past decade—between 2002 and 2011—seven Japanese scientists have received the Nobel Prize, the second most in the world for one country after the United States.

Japanese universities do not focus only on fundamental research in the natural sciences; they also function as a hub for education and research in Asia in areas such as manufacturing and Asian history and culture. A particular characteristic of the educational and research approach at Japanese universities is the establishment of many research laboratories where faculty and students study together as teams. This approach is especially highly evaluated by overseas students from Asia. In addition, the safety of Japanese communities and cities, the richness of nature in Japan, and the “cool Japan” contemporary culture are attractive to international students.

One important factor that further enhances the attractiveness of Japanese universities is their internationalization. According to OECD statistics, the total number of international students around the world jumped from 800,000 students in 1975 to 3.7 million in 2009, a 4.6-fold increase in 34 years. Among them, the number of international students in Japan increased from 10,000 in 1983 to some 140,000 in 2011. The Japanese government has set a goal of increasing this number to 300,000 international students by 2020.

As a step in this direction, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) launched its Global 30 project in fiscal 2009. Through this project, MEXT selected 13 core universities as model universities that will offer outstanding education programs for international students that will place priority on supporting their various foreign language and daily life needs. MEXT provides funds to support these universities’ efforts to internationalize their systems and organizations, such as by expanding programs in which  international students can acquire degrees in courses offered exclusively in English.

On the other hand, the number of Japanese students studying abroad has been decreasing since 2004. In particular, the number of students going to the United States from Japan fell to 21,290 in 2010, over half fewer than 10 years ago. The Japanese government wants to reverse this trend of decreasing numbers of Japanese study abroad students and make efforts to give opportunities to more Japanese students to study in the United States and other countries.

For this, MEXT has decided to provide new support from fiscal 2012 to universities which prepare mechanisms aimed at supporting Japanese students’ overseas study. In fiscal 2011, MEXT developed a quality-assured model program for joint education with overseas universities. To promote further student exchanges, MEXT also started a student exchange program with relatively short periods of study of under three months that will provide solid motivation for Japanese students to pursue credit programs overseas.

In 2009, there were 6,166 American students studying in Japan. We want more students in the United States and from around the world to know about the appeal and desirability of Japanese universities, and, at the same time, we want more Japanese students to study abroad in the United States as well as in other countries. My sincere hope is that these students will develop as valuable human resources who will study together with colleagues around the world, produce new knowledge and technology, and contribute to the finding of solutions to the world’s common challenges.

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