National

Waseda's newly elected president aims to make university a top-notch global draw for scholars

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

Perhaps he won the presidency thanks to his specialized knowledge of voting behavior and public opinion, or maybe it was his casual tweets in conversations with students, his use of mocking buzzwords or his adoption of slang used by his pupils.

Whatever the case, 67-year-old Aiji Tanaka assumed the presidency of Tokyo’s Waseda University last month, becoming the institution’s first leader selected from the political science and economics department over the past 50 years.

Tanaka envisions raising Waseda into the ranks of the world’s top schools, with clear measures he says must be “effective first, and then efficient.”

Although currently among Japan’s top private universities, Waseda ranks between 600 and 800 in Times Higher Education’s World University Ranking. Tanaka said he intends to boost the university into the top 30 to 40 institutions worldwide.

“To be a top university in the world, serious determination and commitment are necessary. That was the first thing I thought of when becoming president,” said Tanaka.

To compete globally, Tanaka believes that bringing top-notch professors to Waseda from abroad is imperative.

He currently plans to invite more scholars from top schools such as Stanford to hold two-month seminars at Waseda from June to August, which is the summer vacation period in the United States. Ideally, he said those professors would also conduct collaborative research during their stays.

While financial incentives may draw overseas talent to Japan, Tanaka emphasized that Waseda professors must be capable of motivating foreign scholars to work with them in Japan.

“Top-notch professors will only come here if there are people they want to do research with. Each professor needs to be such an individual,” said Tanaka.

But under the status quo, Tanaka said, professors do not have enough time for research, so he plans to drastically reduce the number of nominal meetings.

His current plans additionally call for merging some of the classes that significantly overlap. Professors in the same fields of study would create syllabuses together. This, Tanaka said, is crucial to securing quality education.

This teaching methodology matches what he observed when he worked on his master’s degree at Ohio State University, the political science faculty of which is often highly ranked in the U.S.

Tanaka, who lived in Ohio for nine years, believes that all students who have not yet lived outside of Japan should have a chance to reside in a foreign country for some time, and thus observe their own nation from an outside perspective.

One simple solution he intends to promote is sending every single Waseda student to study abroad.

This proposed program is what Tanaka plans to add to “Waseda Vision 150,” which encompasses the goals that Waseda expects to achieve by 2032 — the 150th anniversary of the university.

In the current proposal issued in 2012, Waseda aims to decrease the number of undergraduate students by around 20 percent and increase the level of graduate students by around 60 percent. The idea is said to come from the fact that top universities such as Harvard have more graduate students than undergrads.

But Tanaka said increasing the number of graduate students is not currently feasible, given that liberal arts graduate schools have not gained as much traction in Japan.

Tanaka said the situation is attributable to the reality that Japanese manufacturing companies seldom consider what job applicants studied in their university years and are only interested in whether or not potential recruits have strong communication skills and resolve.

“Companies consider master’s degrees in humanities and social sciences to not be necessarily required for jobs,” said Tanaka. “Many companies think what students have learned in university are not applicable within their businesses.”

He said it will be necessary to remove such misconceptions from human resource evaluation systems by facilitating communication between the university and recruiting companies.

Another of Tanaka’s major objectives is to start a medical faculty at Waseda by merging with a medical college that lacks science or engineering faculties.

In an era in which artificial intelligence can diagnose patients within a few seconds, Tanaka believes that a medical school without access to a cutting-edge information technology faculty will be left behind in terms of both medical research and education.

“Merging with Waseda, which is strong in both science and technology, would create a win-win situation. I would like to make this happen sometime in the future, though we have not established a particular time limit,” said Tanaka.