Fostering global human resources seems all the rage these days and several Japanese universities are jumping in, opening their doors to foreign students who aren’t proficient in Japanese in a bid to snatch top-class talent from around the world.
While the institutions prepare to make their programs attractive to foreign students, university officials say the private sector should also open up so these graduates will stay in Japan and embark on solid career paths.
Under the Global 30 project initiated by the education ministry last year, by the end of fiscal 2013 more than 130 undergraduate and graduate courses conducted completely in English will be launched at 13 universities acting as Japan’s “global education hubs.”
The schools, selected by the education ministry, include the University of Tokyo and Waseda, Keio, Meiji and Nagoya universities. Global 30 is one of the measures launched to achieve a goal set out in 2008 by then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to attract 300,000 foreign students a year by 2020.
Through this project alone, the number of foreign students at the 13 universities should reach 50,000 by fiscal 2020, a ministry report says. Another aim of Global 30 is to reverse the decline in Japanese studying abroad, raising it to 10,000 from 4,000 now.
The program will give each university subsidies of between ¥200 million and ¥400 million a year until fiscal 2013, and they are expected to make great strides in becoming more international.
Efforts include establishing at least one “taught-in-English” course in both the undergraduate and graduate levels, setting up one-stop information offices overseas, providing foreign students opportunities to learn Japanese language and culture, and increasing the number of foreign teachers.
“This is a big chance,” said Yoshihito Watanabe, vice president of Nagoya University. “We had to internationalize regardless of the launch of Global 30. But now, with the funds from the government, we can take active steps” to make Japanese campuses more international.
Most of the universities have spent the last year preparing, so the majority of the new courses are scheduled to kick off this fall and over the next two academic years.
For example, Waseda University opened four undergraduate and five graduate English-only courses Tuesday and is scheduled to open another undergraduate course in 2011 and a graduate course in 2012.
Nagoya University is scheduled to start five undergraduate and six graduate courses in October 2011, aiming to raise its foreign enrollment, which was 1,214 in 2008, to 3,000 by the end of fiscal 2020.
Faculty members are promoting the school and recruiting students overseas, including in the United States, Europe, Australia, Mongolia and Singapore, visiting top high schools and setting up booths at major international education events, Watanabe said.
While the government and the universities may have high hopes for luring top-class foreign talent, the project, there are plenty of hurdles, experts say.
One concern is whether the idea is truly realistic.
“We are now doing the best we can. . . . Some faculty question whether foreign students will actually choose to study in a country where English is not the first language,” Watanabe said. “But we will not accept students who aren’t qualified just so we can fill the seats we have prepared.”
Another university official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the schools will bear up even if only about 20 percent of the seats are filled the first year.
“The important thing is to provide high-quality education and build up its reputation. Then, hopefully, many (top-class) students will come forward through word of mouth,” the official said.
Etsuko Katsu, vice president of Meiji University, said one of the keys to attracting foreign students is to provide something extra in the curriculum and to put an emphasis on Japan.
As an attempt, Meiji is scheduled to start an undergraduate course next year on modern Japanese culture, focusing on manga, “anime,” video games and other aspects of the “Cool Japan” fad the government has been promoting overseas.
Katsu also stressed that the ultimate goal of the plan is to actually improve the level of Japanese research, not foreign enrollment. By raising the academic level, many first-class students will come naturally, she said.
Meanwhile, some critics have raised doubts about whether the private sector, which is where the demand for global students is coming from, will have jobs ready for them.
Shigeharu Kato, deputy director general of the Higher Education Bureau at the education ministry, said at a joint forum last month in Tokyo that it is critical to collaborate with the private sector.
“Cooperation between universities and business is vital” to Global 30’s end results, Kato said.
The Global 30 University-Business Joint Forum brought together officials from the education and economy ministries, universities and corporations to exchange views on the globalization of higher education in Japan.
Executives from Rakuten Inc. and Sony Corp. at the forum expressed a strong desire to recruit first-class international students, but observers say most companies are still reluctant to follow suit.
Figures also show that there aren’t enough jobs for foreign students.
According to a 2007 survey by the Japan Students Service Organization of privately funded international students attending Japanese universities, 61.3 percent said they would like to get a job in Japan. But only 30.6 percent of all foreign students who graduated in 2007 said they found a job in this country.
In the same year, 96.3 percent of Japanese undergraduate students looking for a job secured employment, according to the labor ministry.
“Top executives at large corporations say they will hire foreign students without Japanese-language proficiency, only if they are fluent in English and have excelled at the academic level. But in reality, they don’t,” said Watanabe of Nagoya University. “When such (top-class) students apply, the personnel division says they should have scored at least Level 2 on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in order to have smooth communications.”
Although all 13 schools will be offering Japanese classes for international students, Japanese corporations must realize they have to change their attitude and be more flexible about hiring foreign talent, Meiji University’s Katsu said.
“(Japanese) corporations have to change. Unless the whole society changes, Japan can’t survive in the globalized world,” she said.
On top of these challenges, Global 30 is already suffering from a serious problem in its first year. Funding for the project was cut by around 20 percent through the “shiwake” budget screening process started last year by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government.
Another 17 core universities are supposed to be selected by 2013 to bring the total to 30, as the name of the project says, but it is likely to remain at 13 because of budget cuts, said Kazuki Fukuda, deputy director of the education ministry’s Higher Education Bureau.
Watanabe said the budget cut is having a big impact but that Nagoya University will stick to its original plan.
“There are many factors in accepting foreign students. It is true that we want talented students from overseas, but I also hope the presence of ambitious and aggressive students will stimulate Japanese students, who tend to be inward-looking,” he said, pointing out that fewer Japanese students are seeking to study overseas.
“By increasing the number of such foreign students (on campus), domestic students are forced to use English, and through creating (an international) environment, I think Japanese students will turn their eyes to the outside world,” he said.