National | Internationalization of Japanese Universities

Diverse options reflect Sophia University's global origins

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Fulfilling the vision of the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, who visited Japan in 1549, Sophia University was founded in 1913 in Tokyo by three Jesuit priests, Joseph Dahlmann from Germany, Henri Boucher from France and James Rockliff from the U.K.

“Thanks to those founders and other priests who taught at Sophia University, we already had an international environment from the very beginning of the university,” said Juro Otsuka, vice president for academic affairs at Sophia University.

Sophia’s first English-taught program at the International Division started in 1949 in the postwar period to provide U.S. troops and their children with higher education in English. Based on the U.S. system, the division offered all of its courses in English, which later developed into the Faculty of Comparative Culture in 1987.

Juro Otsuka, vice president for academic affairs at Sophia University.
Juro Otsuka, vice president for academic affairs at Sophia University. | MASANORI DOI

The faculty was reorganized as the Faculty of Liberal Arts (FLA) in 2006, and the FLA moved from the Ichigaya campus, which used to be like a separate foreign college, to the main Yotsuya campus where the university’s other seven faculties were located. Since then, the Yotsuya campus has been home to the eight faculties. It has added another to have a total of nine faculties, and more international students have come to actively interact with Japanese students. It is noteworthy that both the faculty and staff members have been trained guide students who have undergone various education systems from around the world.

Today, the FLA accepts around 200 freshmen, among which around 20 percent are non-Japanese. From 2013 to 2018, 210 non-Japanese students in total entered the faculty from 31 countries and regions, including South Korea, the United States and China. The FLA offers three majors — International Business and Economics, Comparative Culture and Social Studies.

“It is also impressive to see an increasing number of Japanese students with international experiences and linguistic abilities,” said Otsuka.

In 2012, the Faculty of Science and Technology launched two undergraduate programs — the Green Science Program in the Department of Materials and Life Sciences, and the Green Engineering Program in the Department of Engineering and Applied Sciences — that are taught entirely in English to meet the pressing needs for globalization. Students from 15 countries and regions, including Indonesia, India and the U.S., have applied for the programs and, in 2017, there were 11 non-Japanese students among 13 freshmen. The cross-disciplinary programs aim to cultivate individuals who can address global environmental issues based on scientific or engineering knowledge.

Not limited to undergraduate programs, graduate students can obtain degrees with English classes only. Five graduate programs, which are Education, Global Studies, Language and Linguistics (TESOL Course), Global Environmental Studies, and Science and Technology (Green Science and Engineering Division), are mainly targeted at students from overseas.

“For overseas students who desire to receive the educational content and degrees offered at Sophia University, we want to remove the obstacles for them. By offering programs and degrees in English at reasonable tuition rates, we are able to prevent international students from giving up studying in Japan due to the Japanese language barrier,” said Otsuka.

“We have offered English-medium programs for nearly 70 years, using the grade-point average and numbering system, the same as in American universities. As Japan’s a pioneer in global education, we have established the current programs and curriculum through trial and error for many years,” Otsuka said with a touch of pride.

In addition to the longtime experience and expertise in global education, Otsuka mentioned the advantage of Sophia’s compact footprint that brings together all faculties and graduate schools in science and humanities on a single campus.

“This allows students of different faculties to interact with each other, and we have been promoting mobility and collaboration among the faculties so that students can enjoy significant benefits of the university’s open and flexible programs,” Otsuka said. “Also, our campus is located in the heart of Tokyo, near the political center of Japan, which provides students with convenient access to any facilities such as excellent museums and libraries, as well as headquarters of major Japanese companies in the business center.”

Regarding the globalization of the university in the future, Otsuka points out two aspects.

“One is to further globalize our Yotsuya campus, and the other is to encourage our students, both Japanese and non-Japanese, to go abroad further,” Otsuka said. “Our job is to make an environment to facilitate these two by removing the barriers.”

But why should Japanese universities be globalized?

“The world is rapidly becoming borderless, but people cannot live in the world without borders. In a sense, there are multiple borders in the world today,” Otsuka explained. “Of course, Japanese culture and language are important for our identity, but we should not stay just inside our borders. In the increasingly complex world, we need to cultivate individuals who are able to recognize multiple borders and have the flexibility to redefine the borders into a new framework.”

“To this end, we are promoting a diversified environment by inviting international students, who come to Japan beyond national borders, and encourage them to learn different borders from each other and create new frameworks together,” he said. “And we use English as a common language that is the lowest barrier for communication. It’s just a tool. Not an objective.”

In 2018, total full-time student enrollment is 13,932, including 1,760 international students from 76 countries and regions. The number of faculty staff is around 1,500, among which the 543 full-time faculty include 85 international members from 21 countries and regions.

“We welcome more international students and expect them to collaborate with Japanese students in developing the Yotsuya campus into a community where students are able to acquire the abilities, knowledge and perspectives that will be necessary for society in the future, rather than just studying something Japanese here,” Otsuka said.

Toward the year 2020, the university is developing a new English-taught program named Sophia Program for Sustainable Futures (SPSF), in which international students are able to take a bachelor’s degree in a specific field of social science and humanities.

“While further experimenting with new approaches to respond to the changing times, we don’t want to lose our Jesuit tradition of treating each student with respect and care. This is the spirit of Sophia,” Otsuka said. “So, we will keep the advantage of reasonable size comprised of Japanese and international students, who collaborate in studying a wide range of subjects at the Yotsuya campus, which functions as a microcosm of a global community in the heart of Tokyo.”

New English-based undergrad program to launch in 2020

Eiji Watanabe, in charge of SPSF
Eiji Watanabe, in charge of SPSF

In addition to the existing English-taught programs at the Faculty of Liberal Arts (FLA) and the Green Science and Green Engineering programs at the Faculty of Science and Technology, a new English-based undergraduate program named Sophia Program for Sustainable Futures (SPSF) is currently under development at Sophia University.

Scheduled to launch in 2020, the SPSF will cover six existing departments: education, sociology, economics, management, journalism and global studies. Students are enrolled in each department and can obtain a bachelor’s degree in their respective fields of study, such as a bachelor’s of economics or bachelor’s of management, while the FLA offers a bachelor’s of liberal arts.

The curriculum aims to develop core competencies, including English skills and enhancing practical skills while pursuing the common theme of sustainable futures shared by the six departments. Based on their respective department, SPSF students share the common core classes and introductory classes.

Also, the cross-listed discipline-based classes are open to students of different departments according to their interests.

For example, the SPSF students in the Department of Education basically choose discipline-based classes offered by that department. But, if they are interested in international education, they are able to take classes on international issues offered at the Department of Global Studies or classes on the global economy at the Department of Economics, to garner different point of views to pursue the theme.

“Currently, the mandatory number of credits for a specific degree depends on faculty and department. We will lower the number of — and accept credits from other departments — for SPSF students to obtain the degree of their respective department, so that students will be able to study in a broader range,” said Eiji Watanabe, who is in charge of the new program.

Naturally, there may be a concern about the lack of expertise in the specialized field.

“To prevent students from being lost in terms of on what to study, faculty members are expected to play a guiding role. Rather than just giving their knowledge of the specialized field, the faculty members will provide models of taking various classes, which will become a customized package according to each student’s story to tackle the theme of sustainable futures,” Watanabe said.

Prospective students are graduates with high English fluency from overseas high schools, International Baccalaureate schools, international schools in Japan and overseas and Japanese high schools.

The launch of the SPSF by inviting more diverse students to the Yotsuya campus will further enhance mobility and flexibility among the existing English-taught programs, as well as Japanese-based faculties.

Based on its expertise in English-taught programs, Sophia University aims to create a new style of education through the SPSF.


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