Space to join research networks

Jeremy Rappleye’s Dec. 13 article, “Higher-education stimulus would be sure bet for Japan,” is right to point out that “internationalization” cannot just mean importing foreign faces onto Japanese campuses. It must involve expanding the scope for all Japan-based faculty and students to operate internationally.

I am one of those rare creatures — a “foreign” academic on a permanent contract. As such, I face the same working conditions as my Japanese colleagues. I calculate about one month of my working year is taken up by meetings. Often pointless collective rituals, their scheduling also seems designed to keep us chained to our university desks, even outside the term. No wonder Japanese scholars are barely visible on the international conference circuit.

Ineffectual administrative support contributes to the enormous nonacademic workload of university faculty. There are lots of administrators in Japanese universities, but their role is to monitor rather than service the academics. The servicing role falls to junior academics and postgraduate students.

Far from encouraging young researchers to forge ties with the international scholarly community, this system compels them to focus overwhelmingly on internal administrative donkey-work.

The greater funding that Rappleye advocates is urgently needed, for example, to upgrade library collections, generally poorly stocked with international journals and monographs (in English or other languages). And if the best foreign researchers are to be recruited and retained, they must be offered employment terms equivalent to those enjoyed by Japanese colleagues — in pensions and salaries.

However, internationalization is not just a matter of throwing more money at universities or individual researchers. It requires giving Japan-based scholars, at least at supposedly “elite” research-intensive institutions, the time and space to engage in international research networks. Failing that, Japan’s higher education sector will become ever more inward-looking and irrelevant.

edward vickers
department of education, kyushu university
fukuoka

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.