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ACA Newsletter guest article by Dr. Yuriko Sato, Associate Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology

Re-inventing Japan! The Japanese government’s new drive to promote the internationalisation of students and universities

Japan ranked 26th in the World Competitiveness Scoreboard 2011 compiled by the Institute of Management and Development. Japan’s weaknesses were not only the country's huge public debt and high corporate tax but also the lack of international experience of senior managers (54th out of 59 countries), English proficiency (TOEFL rank: 58th out of 59 countries) and students’ outbound mobility (47th out of 59 countries).

According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the number of students who studied abroad in 2009 was estimated to be 59 923, while Japan accepted 132 720 international students in the same year. Japanese students’ outbound mobility has been on the decline since 2004 when 82 945 students studied overseas. This “introspective tendency of the youth” has attracted ample public attention. Experts point out that if this trend continues, it can undermine the global competitiveness of Japanese industries in the long run.

It is precisely this growing concern about the Japanese youth that is the driving force behind a series of new governmental projects to promote the internationalisation of students and universities. In the “policy contest” for the year 2011, a programme to support the “short visit” (outbound mobility lasting less than three months) of 7 000 students from Japanese higher education institutions (HEIs)  and “short stay” (inbound mobility) of 7 000 overseas students at Japanese HEIs  obtained the highest public support from all the MEXT policy proposals and gained a new annual budget of JPY 2 200 million (EUR 22 million). Another JPY 2 200 million (EUR 22 million) per year was allocated to a new project to support Japanese universities to create collaborative educational programmes with universities in neighbouring China & Korea (type A) and the USA or EU/Australia/others (type B) for five consecutive  years . The former project is called SV/SS and the latter is named the Re-inventing Japan Project.

In the year 2012, the Project for Promotion of Global Human Resources Development was launched with a JPY 5 000 million (EUR 50 million) annual budget. The plan is to support 40 university educational programmes designed to foster “global human resources” for five consecutive years. One of its foci is to increase the number of the Japanese students who study abroad. Candidate universities are requested to submit a five-year plan for their proposal, stating concrete targets such as the number and percentage of Japanese students who will study abroad, foreign language proficiency level of the students at the time of graduation, percentage of the courses provided in foreign languages, and the percentage of foreign academic staff and those who received their degrees overseas.

In 2012, the yearly budget to support various types of outbound mobilit y  was also increased by JPY 1 200 million (EUR 12 million) and a new JPY 700 million (EUR 7 million) budget was approved for the “Re-inventing Japan Project” with ASEAN countries in addition to the existing type A and type B programmes.

Although these new projects will certainly spur the internationalisation efforts of Japanese universities, the real challenge will start when the MEXT grant is terminated.

As of 2011, there are 780 universities in Japan. Declining birthrates and intensified competition among them has imposed continuous pressure on the university management. In non-English-speaking countries such as Japan, the cost to provide international education (especially courses offered in English) is much higher than the cost in English-speaking countries. How Japanese universities will be able to sustain the newly started international education programmes will be a touchstone for the institutions in their quest to remain competitive in international higher education.

World Competitiveness Yearbook 2011