In continuation with the interview series, where at least five students meet-up with an expert and have an informal discussion followed by a question and answer session, we had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Kentaro Sugiura, the General Manager of the International Affairs Department of the University of Tokyo. Mr. Sugiura started working at the Ministry of Education (MEXT) in 1998. He worked for different bureaus of MEXT like the Primary and Secondary Education Bureau, the Science Promotion Bureau, the Higher Education Bureau, the Cultural Affairs agency. He was also working in the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) and Ministry of Internal Affairs. He also gained experiences in World Intellectual Property Organization (one of the United Nations agencies) in Geneva for three years, until 2009.
It was an enriching session where he spoke about steps being taken by the University of Tokyo and also other Universities in Japan for globalization and internationalization. Keeping in mind the 2020 Olympics, the idea is to open doors for more international students and; at the same time, providing a curriculum in the English language. He also said that various Summer Internships and Summer School programs are being planned to provide opportunities for international students to study in Japan.
After the formal opening discussion by Mr. Sugiura, that not only provided much information on the policy of internationalization and globalization but also on the goals and objectives. Next, it was time for the question and answer session prepared by the students.
Francisco: What are the strategies and/or incentives that MEXT is encouraging to public and private sector to engage international students into their human capital?
Mr.Sugiura: The goals of MEXT for increasing the overseas students to Japan from 140,000 to 300,000 by the Olympic year 2020. The main reason for having this strong will to internationalize Japan’s education is related to the diplomatic policy of Japan, which aims to contribute to the international community and to disseminate Japanese culture. Another reason for such a development is targeting the increase of the Japanese industry productivity with a more dynamic, international and active work force. As you know, the number of youth is decreasing in rural areas outside of Tokyo. This leads to a need for active youngsters in both academia and industry.
Another problem that the Japanese education system is facing is the decrease in some universities apart from the University of Tokyo of the number of enrolled students. In order to maintain the dwindling numbers the universities are actively attracting international students. This may not be the case for the University of Tokyo but it is significant problem for other smaller Universities. I have to be clear international students are doing much more than just simply filling in the numbers: the overseas students can make positive changes in many other various aspects of Japanese society. For example, they will serve as a stimulus to the learning experiences of the Japanese students, thereby, broadening their perspectives.
Tuba: It is good to know that Universities in Japan are taking steps towards internationalization and globalizing by accepting more students from different parts of the world and introducing curriculum in English. In this context, what are the measures taken for internationalization within the labs and how is the change effective for the growth of international and national students?
Mr.Sugiura:The University of Tokyo has been able to increase overseas students recently. Moreover most of the Labs in the Engineering and Science departments, etc. can teach completely in English for postgraduate students. But in case of the Departments of Literature, Law etc. the intake of international students are comparatively low. As a step of internationalization the University is trying to introduce the numbering system for the curriculum and an English syllabus. Though gradual, this futuristic target looks achievable in the next 10 years.
Tuba: Does internationalization only mean introduction of English curriculum and increase in the admissions of students from across the globe? What are your thoughts about this?
Mr.Sugiura:As you know, Japan is a non-English speaking nation and so it is a well-established center of learning and research that has laid emphasis on the Japanese language curriculum and a Japanese language research system. Internationalization does not include a purely English system of education, but rather a medium to attract the international students to enroll in the University.
The main aim is to set up a global campus model located in a non-English speaking country but to portray itself as a globalized platform of learning at par with Universities in the US or English speaking nations.
The University of Tokyo needs to increase foreign nationals in the mainstream academics. In fact, the university needs not only international students but also international professors and international staff within the departments would introduce diversity an important aspect of a University. My department started to have a few international people working as staffs. I think such changes in diversity in all kinds of level in university function will start making many positive results.
Abel: The Japanese government, as part of the Third Arrow of Abenomics, but also as a long-standing objective, is aiming to broaden the education field, and to attract more students. Even private universities are trying to internationalize (Waseda Vision 150 for instance). However finding a job in Japan remains very challenging without a near native level of proficiency in Japanese. Is the ministry of Education to that regard putting efforts in helping international students to transition to the working world?
Mr.Sugiura:The Ministry of Labour and Welfare is mainly in-charge of the counter measures facing the decrease in the number of workers. But it is difficult to determine the outcome of results from them. The larger companies, organizations etc. do need more international students. Sometimes the Japanese language poses as hurdles in entering the industry because the requirement is for bilingual students. Most of the Japanese companies require the language skills but it is gradually changing even though it is difficult for them to hire a work force that is unable to speak Japanese well.
Francisco: I believe that international students like us can be great cultural interpreters are for many of Japanese companies. How can you be committed to for the students who have been educated in Japan to keep on a career path?
Mr.Sugiura:For job hunting in Japan for international students, there exists guidance manuals made by the government. The guidance manual aims to help the companies understand better the specificities of employing foreigners.
It is true that most of the companies want Japanese skills. But from the government side, especially the ministry of labor, they affirm that there is no need for English skills within the company in order to hire foreigners.
Kana: Is MEXT recruiting foreigners to work in the ministry?
Mr.Sugiura:Public servants of the government should basically be Japanese nationals. But in some departments a few foreign nationals are working as on a project basis: It may be difficult to see a drastic change, but we can be still hopeful for some gradual changes.
Tuba from India, Abel from France, Mr.Sugiura, Kana from Japan, Francisco from Mexico