BEIJING – Japan and China’s top universities will expand their collaboration to open the door for more academic and student exchanges, a move encouraged by the first meeting last year between the two countries’ current leaders, university officials said.
The University of Tokyo and Peking University struck a basic deal on the establishment of a “strategic partnership” in mid-January that will pave the way for them to bring their relationship beyond existing exchange agreements and carry out various joint programs more flexibly, the officials said Saturday.
The university presidents are to sign an agreement on the cooperation framework in early March in Tokyo, said the officials, who declined to be named as the proceedings have yet to be made public.
For the Japanese university, which proposed to the Chinese university a new type of relationship late last year, this will be the first and most comprehensive agreement of its kind with a world-class institution of higher education in other Asian countries, they said.
“This is the university version of a mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests,” one of the officials said. “Because of the summit meeting, things began to move very quickly.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping held their first talks in November in Beijing on the sidelines of a regional economic gathering.
During the talks, they agreed to make efforts to restore bilateral ties to build the foundation for a strategic relationship of mutual benefit, despite continued tensions over China’s claim to the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands and wartime historical issues.
Although there has been no dramatic improvement in political relations, the summit provided an impetus for people in Asia’s two biggest economies to resume negotiations or begin new projects, especially in the private sector.
The Chinese leadership has also made it clear it doesn’t oppose an increase in people-to-people exchanges.
The deal between the top universities could motivate other Japanese and Chinese institutions to seek closer ties.
In addition to facilitating joint research, one of the plans under consideration between the two universities is to organize a summer program for undergraduate students, regardless of their majors.
For one month, undergraduates — most likely a total of around 30 — would live and learn together in Tokyo and Beijing, according to a University of Tokyo official.
“For the future generations of the two countries, learning each other’s culture in this way is an opportunity of great significance,” the official said.
In general, research and educational exchange agreements among universities are concluded between faculties and institutions.
What makes the new strategic accord different is that it is designed to help realize a far broader and more comprehensive collaboration, the scope of which will encompass all students and faculty members of the two universities, according to the officials.
Currently, the University of Tokyo, which has been trying to become more international, has a similar partnership agreement at this level only with Princeton University of the U.S.
It is in talks with other select universities around the world, including the University of Cambridge in Britain and Australian National University, to strengthen strategic cooperation. But, the officials said, they so far do not include an Asian university.
The University of Tokyo ranked 23rd last year in the world, keeping its status as Asia’s most prestigious institution of higher education, and Peking University was placed 48th, according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
For a long time, Japan has been regarded as Asia’s top country for higher education and research, but concerns are widespread among government officials, scholars and corporate executives that its lead will be at risk in the years ahead amid intensifying global competition.
In particular, leading universities in Asia, such as China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore, have gained international recognition and moved up in rank in recent years.
As the pace of internationalization continues to accelerate, the Japanese government has set the target of doubling the number of foreign nationals studying in Japanese universities to 300,000 by around 2020.
Under such circumstances, many Japanese universities are looking at the possibility of effectively teaming up with foreign rivals.