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Has the sun set on internationalisation in Japan?

Perhaps in an effort to rectify the less than stellar results of the Global 30 programme, the government launched the Global 30+ project. The five-year subsidised programme will allow selected universities to accept Japanese students into their English programmes – a step towards boosting outbound numbers.

International students in the Global 30 programme at Tsukuba University

The government has realised that the inflow and outflow of students will be vital to the country's economic survival

“If a Japanese student is to attend a biology lecture in the US or the UK, they will need to be prepared for that before they go. That’s a major goal of the G30+ program,” said Irving.

MEXT says that as a condition for the subsidy, the universities are expected to carry on with the G30 and G30+ programmes after funding ends. “The government expects these G30 and G30+ universities to function as initial models for internationalisation for non-selected universities to follow.”

The Council set a goal to have 110,000 individuals under 18 with overseas experience by 2020

Figures show that the highest percentage of international students in Japan come from China and neighbouring Asian countries, and institutions within them continue to improve in quality. It’s no surprise then that the government launched the Campus Asia programme in 2010, to promote trilateral academic collaboration between universities in the three countries.

“As student mobility has become wider globally, Japan has been highly placing value on quality assurance,” says Kuniaki Sato, deputy director of the Office for International Planning, Higher Education Bureau, at MEXT. “Campus Asia exactly fits into such an aim of the government.”

Essentially, says Ng, “Global 30 is a pulling force to pull the students into the country while Campus Asia works to promote exchanges of staff, students, knowledge and expertise in research in order to facilitate higher education cooperation.”

“Japan believes itself to have been internationalised through trade, but that was a one-way street”

The government is also keen to encourage internationalisation in the population at an earlier age. The Council on Promotion of Human Resource for Globalization Development this year set a goal to have 110,000 individuals under 18 with overseas experience by 2020. According to the government, this would be approximately 10% of that age group.

Their strategy includes promoting high school study abroad programmes, facilitating more flexible school calendars, informing parents on overseas locations and ensuring them that their children will still be able to graduate high school in three years if they study abroad.

A US institution in Japan

While it is too early to tell if the government’s subsidised programmes will be a long-term success, US university Temple runs a Japan campus (TUJ) that has proved a stalwart in internationalisation for the past 30 years.

Because of Japan’s booming economy in the 1980s US universities rushed to establish branch campuses in the country, but TUJ has been the only one to survive. “They believed in the value of having branch campuses in Asia”, said Masami Nakagawa, a spokesperson for TUJ. “Maybe right now they would have gone to China.”

The majority of international students at Japanese universities are from the surrounding region thanks to Japanese educational seminars like this in Indonesia

Since opening, TUJ’s curriculum has expanded beyond undergraduate programmes to include a law school, adult continuing education programmes and the Institute for Contemporary Asian Studies (ICAS) which hosts a series of presentations, discussions and social events throughout the year in English.

In 2005, TUJ became the first institution to be designated by MEXT as a “Foreign University, Japan Campus”. While not giving TUJ nonprofit or university status, the designation allowed it to sponsor visas for non-Japanese students who could apply directly for admission to TUJ.

TUJ Dean, Dr Bruce Stronach, says historically Japan has resisted opening up to foreigners. “Japan believes itself to have been internationalised through trade, but that was a one-way street which sent exports from Japan to the world but blocked off much return traffic.”

He reiterates the country’s need to bring in foreign skills in order to support the future economy. “TUJ is an ‘outsider within’ and one of its missions is to support Japan’s global competitiveness by creating Japanese and non-Japanese human resources that help Japan succeed globally, but also enrich Japan domestically.”

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