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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:03 03/09/2007
November 20, 2003

Between the Ideal and Reality of International Education

Ippei YAMAZAWA (President, The International University of Japan)

I wish I could write about The International University of Japan (IUJ) in detail, but I do not know enough about IUJ because I just took office as president. This essay is based on my address at the IUJ entrance ceremony in September 2003, regarding international education and its current problems.

Students from Various Countries as Foundation for International Education

While there exist 24 universities in Japan whose names include the expression "international university," the International University of Japan is unique among them in many respects. Other international universities have their full names indicating their locations, whereas there is no such indication in the name of the "original" International University of Japan. IUJ was founded in 1982, offering only graduate courses taught in English with up to only 150 students. Most of the other international universities consist of undergraduate schools with emphasis on international liberal arts education and admit 5001,000 students every year. There are no national or public universities whose names include "international," although such national universities as Nagoya, Kobe, Hiroshima, Yokohama Kokuritsu and Saitama have opened graduate courses in international cooperation or related topics. On the other hand, Keio, Waseda and Hitotsubashi University are offering MBA programs. IUJ is somewhat similar to these schools in terms of its curriculum, as it is providing International Relations, International Development, MBA and E-Business. However, IUJ has a unique idea of international education, based on the ideal of its founder, Mr. Sohei Nakayama, as will be explained later.

IUJ benefits from various resources. Its campus is located near Urasa Station on Johetsu Shinkansen line, surrounded by beautiful nature, facing the Uono River against Hakkai Mountain, and is equipped with modern facilities, experienced and dedicated staff members. Above all, however, the important asset of the university for international education is its students from all over the world.

The total number of students admitted to IUJ in September 2003 was 148:104 male and 44 female. This includes 63 students in International Relations and 85 in International Management, coming from 39 countries and regions including Japan. Their home countries and regions are widely distributed with 26 from Japan, 71 from East and South East Asia, and 51 from the rest of the world. Aside from Japanese students, other large groups include 13 Chinese, 12 Indonesian, 11 Vietnamese and 10 Indian students. The remaining groups consist of 27 students from a particular country and just one student from 19 countries. In addition, there are 24 exchange students who will stay only for one semester. These students include 13 from Western Europe, 7 from Asia and 4 from the U.S.A. According to the alumni list, there have been 1915 graduates during the past 20 years, originally coming from more than 90 countries. Such diversified students as representatives of their own culture and tradition are living together in dormitories and studying advanced subjects together on campus. This diversity must be a great asset for international education at IUJ.

Understanding Differences as a First Step

Historian Samuel Huntington predicted a decade ago that "the clash of civilizations" would intensify after the end of the Cold War based on ideological conflicts. Surely there may appear to be increasingly intensified conflicts among different religious groups or different racial groups in various parts of the world. However, economists tend to think that differences among nations are the origin of trade, through which everyone can be better off. Despite their differences in nationality, culture and religion, 148 students gathering at IUJ share a common objective: that is, their aspiration for a worthwhile profession in a global economy, and hopefully that should help create a richer world both materially and spiritually.

In a sense, IUJ is a large test-bed, where students, representing different cultures and traditions cooperate and compete in pursuit of their common objective. If they succeed in this test they will open a path towards a peaceful and prosperous world. I as well as my IUJ colleagues will provide the students with our full support for this purpose. That is the real objective of international education and the provision of such education is the obligation for Japan, which has achieved economic development. This is what the IUJ founders believed and we are succeeding now.

However, it is not easy to overcome difficulties associated with differences. Differences of opinions or expressions tend to create misunderstandings and mutual distrust. In my address at the entrance ceremony I encouraged students "to try to mutually understand differences between you and your classmates and also between you and your neighbors in dormitories."

Emphasis on Language Education

Languages are a barrier for mutual understanding. The common language at IUJ is English, but that is not the mother tongue for many students, who may be frustrated in expressing themselves. Those who feel that way should learn English seriously, and will receive full support from English teaching staff at IUJ to overcome various difficulties in language learning. English is an indispensable means for each student to graduate from IUJ and to embark upon their careers.

At the same time, I encourage "those students who are fluent in English to learn Japanese," as I said at the entrance ceremony. They need to communicate in Japanese outside the university campus. They would regret it if they only spend one or two years in Japan without interacting with local residents. Furthermore, no interest in local affairs can be generated without understanding the local language. Currently Japan is undertaking fundamental reforms, and I hope that students will observe and understand such movements correctly. In doing so students can have real experiences based on their study at IUJ. This is the reason for offering Japanese language education at the otherwise English-speaking university.

At IUJ, credit is given for English and Japanese language courses. Usually credit is only given to specialized courses and not to language courses at graduate schools. That is also the case at American and British universities. While teaching in English does not necessarily constitute international education, credit is given to those students who learn foreign languages at IUJ because we think that language ability is crucial for international education. However, this does not at all mean that less emphasis is placed on specialized education. Since almost all students are living in dormitories on campus and not wasting any time commuting or working outside campus, they can participate in classes from 8am to 7pm, and the total number of required units is 50 percent greater than at other graduate schools. The library is open until midnight and the computer room is open 24 hours. This good study environment is one of the merits of an IUJ education.

Wider Viewpoint Beyond Specialized Fields

IUJ offers two specialized fields: International Relations (IR) and International Management (IM). IR consists of the International Relations Program (IRP) and the International Development Program (IDP), whereas IM consists of the two-year MBA Program and the one-year (4 semesters including summer terms) E-Business Program (E-Biz). Chronologically, IR started first and IM (MBA only) opened in 1988., IDP was separated from IR in 1995 for foreign students from developing countries, and has been expanding since then. Within the IM Program, E-Biz with focus on IT started two years ago.

Since its opening, IM has been maintaining a high quality education level comparable to American business schools, and recently is experiencing increased applications from Asian regions such as China and India and high popularity among exchange students from Western countries. Actually, the Economist Intelligence Unit in Britain has just ranked the Graduate School of International Management (GSIM) at IUJ in 82nd place among business schools worldwide, and IUJ is the only Japanese school ranked in the top 100. On the other hand, IDP has developed a highly acclaimed program to support human resources development for public and private institutions such as the Asia Development Bank in developing countries. As a result, IDP is now enrolled in by many students with scholarships from such institutions.

The founding idea of IUJ is to train students with a broad sense of globalism and knowledge to make them global leaders. While IUJ is now emphasizing specialized education such as IDP, MBA and E-Biz, we are encouraging students to take courses outside of their own major. Especially, in order to take advantage of studying in Japan, students are advised to focus on the Asia Pacific region regardless of their major.

Restrictions Imposed by Severe Reality

Of course, there exist various restrictions on our effort to offer an ideal international education. First, it is quite difficult financially to manage graduate education with only 300 students, and we have been dependent on support from those corporations that subscribe to the founding ideals of IUJ. Our alumni association also is not yet strong enough, because it has been only 20 years since its foundation.

Student recruitment is another big challenge. As has been explained, IUJ has a relatively high reputation overseas and the number of foreign students has steadily been increasing. Japanese students, mostly sent by business corporations, have recently been declining in number. IUJ needs to admit more Japanese students who can fund themselves, but cannot attract such students as part-time working adult students, unlike graduate schools in large urban areas.

Of course, these days there are more professional schools such as law schools and business schools being born, and graduate-level education is becoming popular in Japan. There are increasing social needs for education higher than the undergraduate level and, at the same time, individuals tend to regard education expenditures as an investment in career development. In this sense, long-term trends are favorable for IUJ. In the short term, however, there is fiercer competition for student recruitment among those newly created professional schools. To survive such competition IUJ must emphasize the characteristics of its high-level international education, and the merits of its intensive and efficient education in an ideal environment.

As the newly appointed president of IUJ, I wholeheartedly welcomed each of the new students who were introduced individually at the entrance ceremony and I am determined to help all of them graduate and to enable them to make all of their dreams come true.

(This article was published in Japanese simultaneously in "Daigaku-Jiho No.293", an official periodical of The Japan Association of Private Colleges and Universities.)

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