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Japan's Pursuit for International Students

More than 300 courses, taught in English, are now on offer across Japan’s top universities as part of an internationalization initiative to attract 300,000 foreign students by 2020.
BY Rajyasri Rao |   08-02-2013

Globe 30, Japan’s newest initiative to increase numbers of foreign students coming to the country for higher education, has empowered 13 of Japan’s leading universities to aggressively broaden the range and number of courses offered in English.

Since 2009, the project, introduced by the Japanese government, has already led to about 21,000 foreign students enrolling in various masters, doctorate and undergraduate programs at the designated universities.

Currently, masters’ and doctorate degrees in disciplines such as Medicine, Math, Physics and Chemical Engineering are some of the most sought after, at the selected universities.

However efforts are underway to broaden the international students’ base at the undergraduate level as well with the introduction of popular disciplines, taught in English.

The University of Tokyo, one of the 13 universities charged with internationalising Japanese higher education introduced two new undergraduate courses in October 2012: the International Program on Japan in East Asia and the International Program on Environmental Sciences. 

University of Tokyo Vice President Fumio Isoda, speaking with us at the One Globe 2013 Conference: Uniting Knowledge Communities, says that until recently, Japan didn’t care much for promoting student diversity at the undergraduate level. The focus used to be on equipping Japanese students with a good quality bachelor’s degree that would give them the skills to go abroad for a master’s degree if they desired, he says.

“But now we realise we need more diversity at this level too because we gain from the foreign student’s activities – they are aggressive and spontaneous - unlike our students - in discussions,” Isoda says. “And that’s a good quality to have and learn from.” 

The new undergraduate courses at the University of Tokyo have seen the enrolment of 27 international students so far, mostly from East Asia. Isoda says they received many more applicants but numbers are deliberately being kept small to maintain quality.

The next target for the university, however, is expansion in a wider international representation in its student body.

“Although China and Korea are our immediate neighbours, I am interested in bringing in students from everywhere, including India and the South Asia region,” Isoda says.

Enabled by a generous fund of 10 billion Yen, given annually by the Japanese government since 2009, The University of Tokyo established an India office in Bangalore in January 2012.

This office is charged with informing students and parents about the opportunities Japan offers at its universities through  visits to schools in the city and facilitating school principals to visit Japan’s education sector.

We want to tell students in India, and the region, that Japan is closer to your culture than other study abroad destinations, that it is closer home than the U.S., and that it has a long tradition of academic excellence,” Isoda says.

Parents of students can also feel less anxious since the shorter distance to Japan from South Asia can make frequent visits more possible and more affordable, he says.

Although living costs are considerably higher in Japan than those in South Asia, Isoda says a wide range of scholarships offered by the Japanese government and by individual universities can assist once a student is admitted to a university with demonstratation of merit.

“There are also teaching assistant and research assistant programs on offer, although these are, as of now, mainly for graduate students,” he says.

Rajyasri Rao has worked as a journalist with the BBC and the UNICEF in India and as a communications consultant for Ericsson in Sweden. She holds an M.Phil. in Sociology, from the Delhi School of Economics.


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13 April 2013

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