• Kyodo


A small, private university whose main field of study has yet to be recognized by the academic world is set to open in April in a city in Yamagata Prefecture, some 500 km from the academic center of Tokyo.

Tohoku University of Community Service and Science is dedicated to studying the social contributions of nonprofit organizations and business enterprises.

The community of Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, where the university is located, is pinning high hopes on the institution as a primer for its vitalization.

But education sources say the university will find it difficult to secure enough students in the future given the declining birthrate in Japan. It successfully enrolled 240 students in its initial year, its full quota for freshmen.

“Japan is a rare country where entrepreneurs and others with high social status are allowed to be indifferent to social contributions. We aim to change society’s consciousness about community service,” said Ryuji Komatsu, a professor at Keio University who will assume the presidency of the new university.

Community service and science involves seeking fresh academic theories and systems by applying economics and sociology. It also studies volunteerism by enterprises and individuals who are liable to give priority only to economic growth, Komatsu, 63, said.

The university was created by the Yamagata Prefectural Government and 14 villages, towns and cities in the Shonai district, including Sakata, which bore the burden of about 21 billion yen for its site and buildings.

The local community, which kicked off a campaign back in the 1940s to invite a university to the area, is seeing its long-cherished dream realized. The chambers of commerce and industry as well as other organizations have inaugurated a committee to support the school. Volunteers have also helped plant trees on the campus.

To respond to the support from the local community and harmonize with it, the university will have the campus open all the time, with nearby residents given access to its library and conference rooms free of charge.

The university also boasts a tieup with Keio University, an elite private university in Tokyo. About 60 percent of its teaching staff are from Keio and affiliated institutions.

At a site in Tsuruoka in the prefecture for a graduate school of the new university, Keio will open the Institute for Advanced Biosciences in April to study genome engineering.

The new university also has the nation’s largest photovoltaic power-generating facility, capable of supplying 15 percent of its power demand. Its dormitories can accommodate more than half the enrolled students, with each room having high-speed access to a campus internal computer network.

But running the school may be tough going. “In addition to a lack of publicity and its geographical location, the university has an additional problem,” said Koichi Taguchi, principal of the Sendai school of Sundai, a major cram school. “Community service and science is an academic field with no academic recognition.”

Fumitoshi Sakai, chief clerk at the new university, brushed aside such concerns. “Community service and science might be hard to understand at first, but we are sure that students can eventually understand our philosophy while studying here,” he said.

Komatsu is also optimistic. “If we can make our unique study known across the nation, students will come from all over the country,” he said.

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