Why Japanese universities have been left behind in global rankings

The two following article excerpts examine why Japanese universities despite their being unrivalled in several fields … have been left behind in the global university rankings … lack of international representation, scholarships, job follow-through in the employment sector, lack of an open culture and the negative diplomatic image  viz. Chinese and Koreans.

Higher university profiles easier job access needed: Left behind in global rankings The Daily Yomiuri Sat, May 31, 2008

Japanese universities lag far behind internationally acclaimed U.S. and British colleges in global university rankings.

In the 2007 Times Higher Education Quacquarelli Symonds (THE-QS) World University Rankings, one of the most closely watched college league tables, Harvard unviersity held onto top spot, with Cambridge, Oxford and Yale just behind.

Far down the list, Japanese universities finally start appearing, with Tokyo University and Kyoto University ranked 17th and 25th, respectively.

In the ranking, which assesses universities under six criteria, Tokyo University got high scores in “Peer review” and “Employer review”, but scored qute low for numbers of International staff and students.
Global competition to attract the best students is fierce particularly in the science and engineering fields, as winning them brings not only fresh insights and perspectives to universities, but also could bring technological breakthrough for their host nations. …

Compared with U.S. and British efforts is the Japanese government doing enough to attract international students?

According to statistics compiled by the Japan Student Services Organization, the number of overseas studnets in Japan steadily invreased until 2005, when it reached a record until 2005, when it reached a record 121,812. The number has since declined, hitting 118,498 in 2007.

About 10,000 foreign students get government-funded grants, said Yuichi oda, deputy director of the Office for Student Exchange of the ministry’s Student Service Division, adding tha tthe government is well aware of the need to increase both the amount of grants and the number of students who receive them.

So how can Japan, a non-English-speaking nation, differentiate itself from other countries in the competition for students?

“Japanese universities need to work on self-branding, in other words, raising their international profile,” Oda said. “But boosting name recognition isn’t enough.”

Japan needs to promote its educational institutes on the basis of their original research, capitalizing on the unrivaled reputation that some universities have in their fields.

One such study is “Secure-Life Electronics,” a project led by Prof. Kazuo Hotate, dean of Tokyo University’s School of Engineering.
The project involves about 130 doctoral students, who are working on various cutting-edge electronic engineering studies under a shared theme–safer lifestyles.

One of the project’s research centers, Hotate’s laboratory specializes in developing fiber-optic nerve stystems with various uses. These systems with various uses. These systems can be embedded in bridges and aircraft wings, for example, allowing the structures to sense damage and provide an alert.
The Secure-Life project’s unique concept has already attracted many overseas students. …

Hotate’s project will have received about 3.2 billion yen in total, mainly spent on the education and support of doctoral students, including an average of about 150,000 yen each month in financial assistance for about 80 doctoral students who do not receive any other financial aid. The system–still quite rare in Japanese graduate schools–also covers overseas students.

Hottate describes his couse as “completely internationalized,” saying, “We seldom write theses or do research in Japanese.”
However, Japan really wants to attract good foreign students, it must also help students develop their careers after graduation, according to experts.

“For international students, studying abroad is an investment,” said Lim Poh Soon, project manager of the International Strategy Research Group at the Mitsubishi Research Institute Inc. “It’s really important for them to see prospects for getting return–a job.”
lim says a lack of employment support f or international students has been responsible for turning good students away from Japan. …

“Besides the lack of support from the government, most Japanese firms don’t have a system to help overseas students get a job,” said Lim, who was involved in the survey. “While they say ‘We need international students and hope they will apply to us for a job,’ the country’s job entry system is so complicated that many of the international students give up on applying.
Lim emphaiszed the need for a strategy on overseas students, involveing cooperation between policy-side (government), supply-side (Universities) and demand-side (companies). Without such a strategy, it will be difficult to win the competition for talented people, he said.
With this in mind, the Health, Labor and Welfare Minsitry this summer will launch an internship program for overseas students. Aimed at helping overseas students obtain employment in Japn, the minsitry plans to send them to about 400 firms, mainly small or midsize firms in Tokyo they might not understand Japanese corporate culture,” Tatsuhiro Ishikawa, at the ministry’s Foreign Workers Affairs Division, said. “But offering such firms an opportunity to work with international students, even for a short period, might help promote understanding between them.”

*** end of excerpt***

Chinese students shun Japan for practical, historical reasons.

About 70,000 Chinese are studying at Japanese universities, compirsing by far the single biggest group among the nation’s 120,000 international studnets. But Honmare Endo, an adviser to Teikyo Univeristy Group who has served as a counselor for Chinese students in Japan since the early 1980s, sys the cream of China’s students tend to go tto the United States or Europe.

According to Endo, many CHinese students opt for these English-speaking destinations because they offer better opportunities to refine their skills inthe language–a great advantage for job seekers and those hoping to start their own buinses.

Another important reason, Endo says, is the prestige that a degree from a university inthe West holds among many Chinese. Japanese unviersity egrees, by contast, are respected by researchers, but havemuch lower standing among hte general public, she says.

Endo suggested this stemmed partly from deep-rooted public sentiment about Japan among CHinese people. “Anti-Japanese sentiment resulting from this country’s history of aggression toward Chinesa is still prevalent in Chinese society,” said Endo, 67, who was born in China and spent her childhood in the country.

“Most Japanese univerities are trying hard to improve their acadamic and research standards in order to attract international students,” she said. “But when it comes to the issue [of public sentiment], there’s nothing that the universities can do. I think the diplomatic relaionship is much more important in this regard.”

But the anti-Japanese sentiment in China is mirrored by anti-Chinese feeling in Japan. In part, this stems from the illegal employment of Chinese people coming to Japan on student visas–a problem that first began in the 1980s, and has since become the fixed image of Chinese students among many Japanese people, according to Endo.

A survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and Gallup Inc. in December 2007, showed strong distrust of China among Japanese poeple, with 74% of respondents saying they were suspicious of the country.

“There is an open contempt for Asian studetns, especially Chinese, at universities in Japan,” Endo said. ” I’ve seen professors condemning Chinese students for not being fluent in Japanese while being happy to speak English with Westerners who could not speak Japanese, for example.”

Concerning what individual unversities can do to change the situation, Endo said they needed to become more progressive. “As many Chinese students hope to enter the business world after returning to China, collaboration between industries and universities will be the key to attracting good students,” Endo said. ” But many professors have been reluctant to go down that road, and such people often hinder efforts by colleagues at the same university to attract good students from around the world.”

“Japan has really good, advanced technologies, but that’s not enough,” Endo said. “Countries that have an open-minded culture are more likely to attract international students. If Japanese universities, or Japanese society, can’t break out of the traditional conversative mentality, they are going to find it really hard to prosper in a globalized world.”

–Kumiko Ono, The Daily Yomiuri

4 thoughts on “Why Japanese universities have been left behind in global rankings”

  1. Add to this several other factors:

    1. Japanese employers often don’t want skills from their new employees. They want new recruits to be a blank canvas, ready to imprint with company philosophy.

    Therefore, grades are not valued and not important in the job hunting process. What is valued is having been a member of an extracurricular group (‘circle activities’), many of which exist to inculcate a philosophy of conformity and obedience to hierarchy into members.

    2. Postgraduate grants are few and far between, often leaving the cleverest students without access to graduate employment.

    3. English language ability is often poor, so scholars are often shy of integrating themselves into the international academic community. This is because English language education in schools is poor – classes are much too big, and teachers, who have little holiday time, never have chance to go abroad and practice their spoken skills. This contrasts with Europe, where foreign language teachers are supposed to go abroad regularly.

    4. Freedom of expression is limited. If a scholar publishes views contrary to those of certain political pressure groups, there is the possibility that sound trucks will turn up to denounce him.

    5. Japan spends less on education than the other major developed economies. So much time is spent on teaching cultural ‘ethos’ at school that students arrive at university lacking key ideas.

  2. “Compared with U.S. and British efforts is the Japanese government doing enough to attract international students?” <– what kind of stupidity is this? US/British is using English, an international language compared to Japan using Japanese language, China using Chinese language, etc. but you got the idea. That's not apple to apple comparison.
    It should be compared to countries like Brazil, France, Belgium etc. where English is not a major spoken language

    1. I agree with you, it’s meaningless when you compare Japanese universities to those latter foreign countries. However, when universities want their global competitive rankings to rise, there is no choice but to attract more international students since it is one of the basket of measuring components … It is merely a game of numbers, a play to put rankings up a notch, by making the university more accessible to international lecturers and students, and has nothing to do with quality of research, no. of papers published, etc… The effort made to accommodate international students or lecturers, may affect perception of international students however, in the longer run.

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