The findings of a survey conducted recently by a leading Japanese business daily have come as a great shock for Japanese university officials and others concerned. The survey asked senior personnel managers at major Japanese corporations to name any Japanese universities that they believe are worthy of note in terms of the development of human resources. Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) ranked third, surpassing such top-notch private universities as Keio and Waseda. The top choice by the corporate executives polled was Akita International University, an up-and-coming prefectural university in the city of the same name. Japan’s celebrated University of Tokyo ended up in second place.

In terms of the difficulty of entrance examinations, APU does not necessarily rival the nation’s top-ranking universities. So why is this young university attracting so much attention, in spite of its location in the city of Beppu, Oita Prefecture, in the southern region of Kyushu — a place far away from the urban centers such as Tokyo and Osaka?

Japan’s international university

With over 100 years of tradition and history, the Ritsumeikan Trust opened APU in April 2000 as Japan’s first and truly international university.

It is literally international. Today, APU has some 2,500 foreign students enrolled from more than 80 different countries and regions. The share of these international students in the 5,700-student body amounts to a high 44 percent. The same holds true of the full-time, 167-member faculty, nearly half of whom are foreign nationals from all over the world. Indeed, APU has achieved a truly multicultural and multilingual campus environment.

Since its opening, APU has been implementing a bilingual education system for the undergraduate programs in which 80 percent of classes are held in both Japanese and English. Students can choose to pursue their studies in either Japanese or English, and all official documents, student notices and guidance sessions are provided in both languages. The dual-language system makes it possible for APU to create a kind of cosmopolitan learning environment never before seen in Japan.

In addition, APU is admitting students twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. The academic year is divided into a spring and a fall semester. These semesters are further divided into two eight-week quarters and an intensive session.

The bilingual education and flexible enrollment systems are all intended to attract as many bright and promising students as possible from around the world.

‘Global Jinzai’ according to APU

APU officials admit that it is not an easy task to attract prospective foreign students to APU as these students are looking for the schools of their choice on an international scale. APU’s competitors are first-class universities in the United States, Oceania or Europe. Therefore, APU must convince them that their choice to study at APU would eventually pay off later in terms of cost effectiveness, career development and future life, according to the officials.

“What APU can offer to foreign students is the opportunity to study about subjects related to the Asia-Pacific region’s future, together with students of diverse nationalities and different perceptions and values, in English or Japanese as their common language,” said Kenji Ito, manager of APU’s Tokyo office.

Globalization also serves as a major spur for APU. With the fast-growing economies in China and other Asian countries and the steep rise of the yen as motivators, an increasing number of Japanese businesses in diverse areas are stepping up overseas operations.

Today, many Japanese corporations are aggressively hiring foreign nationals as prospective managers at their foreign operations and, naturally, they look for foreign students studying in Japan, who are fluent in Japanese and English, in addition to their mother tongues, and more importantly, who are well versed in Japanese tradition, culture and customs.

Every year, recruiters from about 400 companies visit APU to meet with graduating students, and the number of foreign students hired is very high. They work also outside of Japan. In Singapore, for example, more than 80 multinational APU graduates are active in various fields of work with companies such as Accenture, Goldman Sachs or Panasonic. This year, recruiters from Singapore visited APU as it seems that APU’s competitive and diverse setting appeals to companies in the nation-state.

Ito added, “From its very establishment, APU has been the venue for students from all over the world to get together and study together. In this sense, APU differs fundamentally from most other Japanese universities that principally aim at educating Japanese students.”

Like international school students, APU students recognize their own identity in the circumstances where there are diverse cultures and ideas, and they gain advanced communication skills in which they can be aware of others, making discussions effective, and through such communication they also gain skills to see the essence of things. Almost half the students in APU are from other countries, so Japanese values do not dominate the campus life.

“APU continues to foster highly skilled and capable human resources with global mind-sets who highly value trust and friendship, rather than just business elites,” Ito said. “Since APU was established, it has expanded its network to 130 countries and regions. We really look forward to seeing the continued success in the future.”