Weekender’s Marie Teather talks with TUJ Dean, Bruce Stronach

Following a string of accolades which include being the first foreigner to be the president of a Japanese university, and bringing about educational reforms which made the Yokohama City University a model among Japanese public institutions, Bruce Stronach was appointed Dean of TUJ on April 1 2008.

Weekender caught up with the man expected to bring about change and growth to Temple University to ask him about the business of education in Japan.

You have been involved with higher education in Japan since 1976. How do you feel about the Japanese higher educational system?

In order for Japanese students to complete in a global environment Japanese people from all walks of life, professionals, businessmen, doctors, etc., must develop a skill for lateral thinking. Institutions in Japan need to teach communication skills and lateral thinking and currently Japanese students lack this kind of teaching.

The Ministry of Japanese higher education has been discussing the need to reform the undergraduate education for many years now. What they are essen­tially arming for it to get Japanese universities to do what TUJ has been doing for many years, which is to offer a high quality arts and cultural education, and in English

But isn’t that a case of trying to put Western ideals onto the Japanese culture?

Quite the opposite, it’s a concept beyond the idea of “Western” and “Japanese”. It’s about the quality of education In fact, the problem with Japanese universi­ties is that they are running on a 19th century German model. We need to bring them into the 21st century.

If you are a graduate being recruited from universi­ties around the world, students will nearly always go overseas to improve their chances [of being recruited], rather than stay in Japan. It’s about quality assurance in higher education and the Ministry of Education rec­ognizes these things.

It must be very hard to bring about these changes in institutions which are renown for being traditional in their organization, and even rather set in their ways?

The Japanese higher education system has known for 20 years what the problems are.

Japanese people are very good at problem recogni­tion and good at seeing the solutions, but the problem is that they don’t have the will to make changes.

The literal translation for ‘maintenance’ (or dis­ruption to the usual procedure) is actually the word ‘trouble’. So in the Japanese mindset, change equals trouble or disruption, and that’s not good. Of course in the west we are happy to put up with a little ‘trouble’ if it means an improved outcome, but in Japan they see things a little differently and would rather put-up with a second rate system so to avoid any ‘trouble.’

As the Dean of TUJ, how do you manage the business of running a university?

Few people understand the business of running a university—it is much more difficult than running a business.

In business terms, we produce graduates or educa­tion Unlike a restaurant or a factory for example, we produce a non-physical product. The needs are the same though—to maintain profit while simultaneously providing a low cost, high quality product. You have to operate like a business and must make profit, and being a non-profit organization doesn’t mean that you operate at a loss. Even to just break-even means you are working backwards. You always need a surplus.

To educate someone is very expensive and you dealt want to put the burden on your student. If we don’t have a surplus we cant educate students. At the same time we cant do something simply because it makes money. For example, if we were to let anyone come to this university it will affect the university (the business) in the long-term. You have to worry about the quality of the students you bring in.

Our business plans always refer to the education of the student. Simply, you cant separate the business of a university from the mission of the institution; the mission being education.

What’s in the future for TUJ?

Right now TUJ has a strong financial footing and enrol­ments are strong but we have to look at how we are going to expand. I want to work closely with Minato-ku to talk about the land where we use the campus. The campus is on rented space and ultimately we want to own the space. We are discussing what kind of model we need to implement that.

Another idea in the pipeline would be to build a separate TUJ building on an existing campus. I would like TUJ to partner with a Japanese institution

What are the benefits to partnering with another university?

The benefit to partnering with another high quality institution is that students gain from other programs, for example, Japanese courses, or the opportunity to study in Japanese.

So what would another institution gain from partnering with TUJ?

TUJ is the only place in Japan where you can get a US standard of liberal arts and education in Japan. The quality of education is very high.

Our student body is 60 percent Japanese and 40 percent foreign and, more importantly, the foreign population students are from 40 different countries. When other Japanese universities state their foreign bodies, is predominantly a Chinese student body. It is a necessary criterion for a liberal arts university to have a diverse student body.

The university too is much bigger than people think, this year we have 800 undergraduates and 400 graduates and the ratio of Japanese to foreign is 50:50.

For more information on Dean Stronach or on Temple Uni­versity, courses, and enrollments, see www.tuj.ac.jp or call 03-5441-9800.