Obstacles to internationalizing Japanese universities

by Laura Fumiko Keehn

Further education in Japan must continue to interna­tionalize if the country wish­es to remain intellectually and economically relevant in the 21st century. In many respects, Japan is very dedi­cated to internationalization. Twenty-four trillion yen was invested over the 2001-2005 Japanese Fiscal Years in the Japanese government’s second Science and Technology Basic Plan, in which Research and Development projects were funded in various technology-related areas. Moreover, earlier this year the criteria for rec­ognizing Foreign Universities

Japan Campuses (FU-JC) was expanded, allowing such long-established universities as Temple University Ja­pan (TUJ) to allow foreign students to pursue full de­gree programs. However, many believe there is room for improvement; the ratio of international to Japanese students is still incredibly low, and FU-JCs are burdened with taxes Japanese universities are exempt from.

Mineo Nakajima, President of Akita International University feels that Japanese universities should make internationalization a priority. In an article for the Tokyo Foundation entitled ‘Higher-Education Reform and Overseas-Student Policy in Japan,’ he spoke out on why he believes that Japan is in danger of fall­ing behind if they continue to “maintain a form of ‘intellectual seclusion.”‘ “There is no doubt that in the 21st century Japan’s universities will be buf­feted by fierce interna­tional competition… Japan’s universities [are left] trailing far behind in terms of building a 21st century knowledge society.”

“There is no doubt that in the 21st Century Japan’s universities
will be buffeted by fierce international competition… Japan’s
universities [are left] trailing far behind in terms of building
a 21st century knowledge society.”

The aforementioned FU-JCs play a significant role in building the ’21st century knowledge society’ that Nakajima speaks of. Kirk Patterson, Dean of TUJ, believes that FU-JCs make strong contributions to Japan. “Our graduates have the linguistic, critical-thinking, and profession­al skills that companies are increasingly looking for, thereby contributing to corporate and national com­petitiveness [of the Japanese economy]… we [also] foster an environment that is more conducive to for­eign direct investment.”

Further education has also become vital in today’s increasingly unstable job market. Japanese companies have traditionally hired fresh college graduates en masse in order to train and mold them into the com­pany. “Japanese employees relied on the company for training and career development, but now it is clear that they need to take responsibility for acquiring the skills necessary for their long-term professional success,” explains Patterson. And the necessary skills can be better attained in a competitive, internationally significant center of education.

However, considerable obstacles remain for FU-JCs. They are not granted the same tax status as Japanese universities, placing an unfair burden on the students and campus. The American Chamber of Commerce Japan, released its official viewpoint on this in a statement entitled ‘Ensure a level playing field for Foreign University Japanese Campuses.’ FU-JCs are burdened with taxes Japanese universities are exempt from. FU-JCs are required to pay a five percent consump­tion tax on tuition fees as well as city planning, enterprise and real-estate acquisition, and property taxes. Donations received from alumni and other sources are treated as taxable income, and donors cannot receive tax credits for their donations. In its statement, the ACCJ claims: “the taxation of FU-JCs ultimately penalizes their students and inhibits their ability to support the realization of their students’ edu­cational objectives”.

Patterson believes that “Japan would benefit from having a more diverse array of educational options,” and TUJ offers many such  prospects. Among the education opportu­nities offered by TUJ for both foreign and Japa­nese students is the first American MBA program in Japan, the Executive MBA Program. Patterson explains the benefits of the course. “[Students] greatly benefit from studying together with senior managers from a variety of indus­tries and national backgrounds” he says “Graduates, both Japanese and non-Japanese, have used the degree, and the knowledge thai they gained in the process, to greatly enhance their international careers.”

Despite these efforts, Nakajima believes that “Japan’s policies for attracting the very best students from abroad remain woefully inadequate… and have not adapted to the age of internationalization, when universities must be truly open to the world”.

This article is based on an interview with Kirk Patter­son, Dean of Temple University of Japan and member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

The mission of the American Chamber of Com­merce in Japan (ACCJ) is to further the development of commerce between the United States of America and Japan, promote the interests of U.S. companies and members, and improve the international business environment in Japan. Established in 1948 by repre­sentatives of 40 American firms, the ACCJ has grown into one of the most influential business organizations in Japan, with more than 3,000 individual members representing more than 40 countries and 1,300 com­panies. www.accj.or.jp.