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In answer to the dilemma of how to boost the international competitiveness of higher education and to place more institutions among the top-ranked universities in the world, the Japanese government selected 37 leading universities to implement the ‘Top Global University Project’. The 10-year project, launched in the end of September, identifies two categories of ‘superglobal universities’: ‘Type A’, top Japanese research and education institutions, will receive about YEN 420 million (EUR 3.1 million) each in annual subsidies, while ‘Type B’ will receive roughly YEN 170 million (EUR 1.2 million) to pioneer internationalisation efforts in Japanese higher education.
As all of the 37 institutions are now expected to carry out their individual plans for internationalisation and development, these universities present a strong potential as international partners for student and faculty exchanges, joint research, or transnational education programmes. Among the plans already announced by universities, there are many to increase the number of incoming and outgoing international students, to increase the number of classes taught in English and to build curricula in collaboration with Japanese companies having substantial international operations.
The ‘Top Global University Project’ builds on the foundation of previous ambitious internationalisation plans set out by the Japanese government, such as the ‘Global 30 Project’. Currently, international students enrolled in bachelor’s and master’s programmes only account for 2.9% of all students, which falls significantly under the 7.8% average among member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The government has also announced reforms to introduce English university entrance exams. The Japanese Ministry of Education Hakubun Shimomura announced that if the 37 ‘superglobals’ meet their goals, half of the teaching staff would come from abroad and a fifth of the classes would be taught in English. Considering that, according to 2012 data, the international teaching staff amounted to an average of only 4%, Japanese universities have a long way ahead.