JANU the representative body for
Japan’s National Universities, which counts most of the country’s most
prestigious top-ranked institutions among its members. Supported by the British Council in Japan, and the UK
Science & Innovation Network, the delegation’s objectives were to
strengthen bilateral relationships between UK and Japanese higher education,
with an emphasis upon information sharing, research collaboration and student
and academic mobility.
Japan is one of the world’s
premier research powers, but its higher education ecosystem faces a complex set
of challenges, primarily those related to Japan’s long-stagnant economy and its
shrinking and ageing population. In response to these challenges, the Japanese
government has, since 2012, pursued a range of reforms, championed by the Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe. These reforms have aimed to enhance institutional autonomy
among Japanese state universities, which have traditionally been largely centralised.
They have also sought to create a more competitive research landscape within
Japanese higher education. A central pillar of Abe’s university reforms has
been to promote internationalisation through a series of strategic policies,
such as the 2014 Top Global
University Project. Aiming to propel the top Japanese universities into the
global elite, these policies accord with government targets of doubling both inwards
and outwards student mobility by 2020.
As Japanese universities adapt
to this framework, they increasingly share challenges with UK institutions.
These common challenges, and their manifestation in quite distinct higher
education systems, were the key themes of the symposium. In the first session,
Japanese delegates were keen to learn about the architecture of higher
education in the UK, and the relationship between universities, the state and
civil society, in the context of institutional autonomy. The second and third
sessions saw a series of discussions about academic and student mobility, and
the experience of specific Japanese and UK institutions in their attempts to
increase both. It was widely agreed that enabling greater mobility between the
UK and Japan
The symposium was followed by
institutional visits for the UK delegation to Tokyo University and Keio
University, Japan’s elite national and private universities respectively. These
allowed UK delegates to ask specific questions to senior representatives of the
Japanese universities, to learn first-hand about the challenges those
universities face, as well as to discuss practical mechanism with which to
enhance and increase the mobility of students and staff between the UK and
Japan. These visits also provided invaluable insight into the structural
distinctions between national and private universities in Japan, a crucial
factor in influencing UK engagement with Japanese institutions.
As UK aims to strengthen its
international profile, its success in building strong, mutually beneficial
partnerships with developed countries like Japan is increasingly important.
Establishing strategies for increasing student mobility should be a clear
priority. Not only benefiting the students and institutions directly involved, student
exchange also paves the way for greater high-quality research collaboration, as
well as enhanced cultural understanding.
In the coming weeks and months,
and with colleagues in JANU and the British Council, UUKi will work to continue
supporting inter-institutional partnerships between UK and Japanese
universities, and on sketching out a blueprint for a bilateral agreement to
significantly increase the volume of exchange students.