Questionable link to innovation

Professor Takamitsu Sawa made some factual mistakes in his Sept. 17 article, “Lack of liberal arts education is sapping Japan’s creativity.” In Japanese universities, students of science, engineering and medicine take courses in social studies their first year. As an economics professor at Nagasaki University, I often taught these students about economic conditions of the world, various theories, methods, etc., in a very easy way. Other social science professors are teaching them as well.

In undergraduate economics courses in Japan, students still study the economic history of Japan and of some important countries. In post-graduate classes, they still study the history of economic thought; however, along with the abolition of the Soviet Union, Marxian economics and theory as well as the techniques of national economic planning have been abolished from universities everywhere except at some very prestigious Indian universities and institutes. Japan is no exception.

In a number of countries, a mixture of science/engineering with social science is possible. In Germany and Russia, there are degree or equivalent diploma courses such as engineering economics, instead of MBA “management.” At Oxford, there is a bachelor’s degree course called physics and philosophy. I am not sure how many “innovators” these courses have created.

Innovations in Japan or elsewhere have nothing much to do with whether students of science and engineering study the liberal arts. In Japan, companies have research centers in Japan as well as in some foreign countries. These companies do not depend on Japanese universities for the development of new products.

Except for American and a few British universities, this is also true throughout the world: Major companies hardly have any links with the universities.

However, Japanese universities are trying to set up external links with the business world and with the research organizations of governments of Japan and other countries. For example, Nagasaki University has now a formal link with India’s Defense Research and Development Organization.

Commercially profitable innovations may derive from incremental knowledge or dramatic developments. In either case, innovators may be educated formally like Amar Bose, the founder of Bose Corporation, or relatively uneducated such as Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, etc. Training in liberal arts appeared to have little, if any, effect on their innovations.

The problem with Japanese education is the Chinese kanji character system, which takes a long time for schoolchildren to master, and a significant number of them never do. If Japan could abolish kanji, which it should have done in 1860, students would have a lot more time to learn about the world and various philosophies and ideas in their school curriculums.

But I don’t think there’s a need to overburden university students with liberal arts.

dipak basu
nagasaki

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.