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.