National | Regional Voices: Hiroshima

Five years after earning Super Global status, Hiroshima University eyes elusive top 100 ranking

Chugoku Shimbun

As this year marks the fifth anniversary of the education ministry designating Hiroshima University as a “Type A Super Global University,” the university has taken major steps to achieve globalization.

The university initially set the objective of being ranked among the top 100 universities in the world, and set up 13 individual goals to achieve that. So far, it has met 12 goals, such as fulfilling the desired number of international students and the number of classes taught in foreign languages.

Making it into the top 100, however, is a difficult goal to achieve. The Chugoku Shimbun has taken a look into the reforms underway at one of Hiroshima University’s campuses, in the city of Higashihiroshima.

The Super Global University initiative is an education ministry-led project that supports universities that aim to be ranked among the top 100 educational institutions around the world. Along with 12 other universities, such as the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University, Hiroshima University was awarded the title.

The institutions each drew up plans to get an idea of where they would be following reforms over the 10 years through March 2024, the year the project will come to the end. The 13 universities individually established numerical targets promoting globalization and reforms in their respective personnel affairs systems.

Hiroshima University aims to double the enrollment of international students, from 1,096 as of May 2014 to 2,000. By fiscal 2019, the number increased to 1,979.

The university also sought to boost the number of Japanese students studying abroad from 493 in fiscal year 2014 to 1,000 by fiscal 2023. In fiscal 2018, 668 students went abroad to study.

Both the number of classes taught in foreign languages and the number of faculty members who are either non-Japanese or have obtained degrees abroad have gone up as well. Twelve goals set for this fiscal year have either been achieved or are projected to be.

Having about 30 percent of the entire student body whose TOEIC English test score is 730 or more is the only objective that won’t be reached by the end of fiscal 2019.

“The numbers are merely targets, but we are expected to hit all of them (by March 2024, when the initiative will be brought to the end),” said Makoto Miyatani, the university’s vice president. “It’s become normal to have international students on campus, and I think the attitude of Japanese students has changed.”

Through the initiative, Hiroshima University has received between about ¥60 million and ¥120 million per year in government subsidies to increase students from abroad. One step has been founding the Department of Integrated Global Studies in the School of Integrated Arts and Sciences.

The education ministry gave the university the second-highest grade in the program’s midterm progress report at the end of fiscal 2017.

However, Hiroshima University is far from being in the top 100 in the latest world university rankings.

It placed between 601 and 800 in the Times Higher Education World Universities Rankings and was ranked 334 in the QS World University Rankings. Universities in English-speaking countries are said to have an advantage in those rankings, and countries such as China and Singapore are investing heavily in university education, far outstripping Japan.

One professor said that while the university will continue to make efforts, “it’s impossible to compete (with universities in those countries). The way they spend money on education is so different from the way Japan does.”

Hiroshima University President Mitsuo Ochi said Japanese society as a whole needs to seriously consider increasing the competitiveness of its universities. Japanese firms, he said, are increasingly scaling back research institutes, leading to fewer researchers.

“All of us at the university has been doing our best for the past five years,” he said. “We need more time to see more tangible results.”

This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published on Oct. 30.