01 September 2010

And then there were 13

In 2008 the Japanese government announced its ambitions to increase the number of  international students in higher education from around 120,000 to 300,000 by the year 2020.

At the same time, the higher education system was supposed to working collectively on forming a core global 30 of top universities in internationalized undergraduate programs, post-graduate education, and research. However, Japan seems to lurch from government to government and has never really got very far out of the economic doldrums for nearly two decades. This economic stagnation has compounded fiscal and monetary crises, which were also deepened by the global economic turmoil of the past several years.

Now the government has scaled back its plans for 30 world-class universities to 13--mostly because it can't really afford to fund even 13 and also because most other universities probably didn't think it was worth jumping through all the hoops in order to qualify for the funding. Meanwhile the goal of 300,000 international students seems more remote than ever in light of the fact that so much funding for international students has fallen through this year because of the ongoing fiscal crisis at the national level as well as the funding shortages at the universities.

Finally, it is this publication's opinion that the language policy goals of the '300,000 International Students Plan' are also dubious. First, most Japanese universities do not have enough faculty prepared to plan, teach and evaluate courses in English. Second, since most of the international students come from countries where English is a foreign or supplementary language, the Japanese universities and programs are completely unprepared to teach and guide the research of students who have beginning to intermediate English proficiency. And since the vast majority of international students in Japan come from China, this issue is hardly a trivial one. Still it seems unlikely that the Japanese government and the universities will be able to dig themselves out of the fiscal and financial crisis well enough for the language policy issues to get worse than they already are now (with 120,000 international students and most from China).     

Further reading at the Ministry of Education's website is at the following links. Excerpted content (in italics) follows the links.



Japan formulated the 300,000 International Students Plan in July of 2008, with the aim of receiving 300,000 international students by 2020. The “Global 30” Project for Establishing Core Universities for Internationalization is being implemented to realize this goal by selecting measures for the internationalization of universities including the recruitment of international students, along with forming Japan’s centers of internationalization. Selected universities will receive prioritized financial assistance of 200 to 400 million yen per annum over the next 5 years. Endowed with this aid, each university will strive to recruit 3000 to 8000 international students.

In 2009, the following 13 universities were selected as global centers:

Tohoku University, University of Tsukuba, The University of Tokyo, Nagoya University, Kyoto University, Osaka University, Kyushu University, Keio University, Sophia University, Meiji University, Waseda University, Doshisha University, and Ritsumeikan University

Core universities will take the following steps to create an attractive educational and research environment for international students.

1)Expansion of course programs by which degrees can be earned through English-only classes

⇒ Establish courses at the universities selected through which English-only degrees can be obtained: 33 undergraduate courses and 124 graduate courses over the next 5 years

2)Enhancement of systems for receiving/hosting international students

⇒ Enhance systems for receiving/hosting international students, such as specialist support in studying and academics, as well as for completing various procedures and formalities both in/out of the university; and provide internship programs at Japanese corporations, etc.

3)Provide international students with opportunities to learn about Japanese language and culture

⇒ A plan to provide high-quality instruction in Japanese language and culture

4)Promotion of strategic international cooperation

⇒ Establish two separate overseas offices per core university, to enable local recruitment through admissions tests, etc., and boost the number of Japanese students studying abroad through exchange study programs, etc.

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