JSPS Quarterly
No.31 2010 Spring Topics
University Internationalization Milestones Achieved under SiH Program

University Internationalization Milestones Achieved under SiH Program

The Strategic Fund for Establishing International Headquarters in Universities (SiH Program) was launched in FY 2005 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and implemented over a five-year period by JSPS. The program has pivoted around 20 universities selected to establish on their campuses international strategy headquarters, which were to break old modes and new ground in initiating and carrying out institution-wide reforms that advance a broad scope of internationalization.

The Japanese higher education system is currently undergoing a comprehensive process of reform, in which internationalization is a major component. The university system in Japan has seen periodic reforms since it was first established after the Meiji Restoration in 1867, which ushered Japan out of more than two centuries of isolation from the international community. The University of Tokyo was established in 1877 as one of the first comprehensive institutions of higher learning with a mandate to educate the cadre of leaders needed to modernize Japan. Its initial faculty comprised Americans and Europeans, who taught in their native languages. By the turn of the century, a process of Japanization had replaced the Westerners with Japanese instructors, who taught in the Japanese language.

Now, some century-and-a-half later, MEXT and JSPS are carrying out an array of programs to internationalize Japanese universities―integrating them deeper into the global academic community. One such program, titled Global 30, even re-introduces English as a language of instruction and degree acquisition, particularly for overseas students enrolled in Japanese universities. The SiH Program works to effect comprehensive, multi-tiered university internationalization overarching administration, staffing, course curricula, outgoing/incoming researcher and student exchange, inter-university collaboration, and university’s overseas bases, among several other facets.

Establishing International Headquarters within Universities

To carry out these functions effectively, the international strategy headquarters established within the 20 pilot universities are headed by the university president. While this makes the system top-down in configuration, it also tailors it in such a way as to be attuned to bottom-up initiatives. Up to now, launching an international program could entail the tedious task of obtaining the acknowledgement of each and every related department and holding an endless series of meetings before preparations could even get started. In contrast, the president-led international headquarters have been shown to expedite the decision and implementation process, including personnel assignment and budget appropriation for international programs. This development of a cross-organizational structure for university internationalization has been one of the most salient successes of the SiH Program.

Incentivizing Young Japanese Researchers to Gain International Experience

In the process of carrying out the SiH Program, systemic legacies have been found to impede university internationalization in a variety of ways. For example, though a myriad of overseas training and internship programs are available for young Japanese researchers, they are taking advantage of these opportunities in declining numbers. One major reason for this is a perception that it is more career enhancing for young researchers to spend their time in Japan authoring as many research papers as possible vis-à-vis taking time and trouble abroad to master a foreign language and adapt to a different research environment. In this respect, the program revealed a need to modify the qualification criteria for faculty positions to emphasize quality over quantity in paper writing and couple it with an appraisal of the applicant’s overseas research experience and resultant international networking. To incentivize young researchers to go out and gain overseas experience, the pilot universities have introduced a range of measures, including double-degree programs, which mitigate any loss in career development that their overseas stays may incur.

Attracting and Receiving Overseas Researchers in Japanese Universities

Neither has the contemporary university system in Japan been well-equipped to accept overseas researchers. Though attracting talented researchers from other countries is the most important factor in advancing university internationalization, this is an area in which Japan lags far behind. The pilot universities under the SiH Program have taken various steps to improve this situation. They include establishing a “one-stop” service facility for accommodating overseas researchers on their campuses. Finding that overseas researchers’ needs can best be grasped via face-to-face conversation, opportunities and platforms have been provided for actionable exchanges of views between them and university staff and faculty. Such operational enhancements have been combined with strengthened international recruitment of overseas researchers into not only long-term and full-time but also short- and medium-term faculty positions. This is in response to a shift in the universities’ perception of researcher mobility from one of brain gain and drain to one of brain circulation, which creates synergistic networks that of themselves generate knowledge and innovation. Though further steps still need to be taken, tangible progress has been made under the SiH Program in placing Japanese universities within the international flow of the world’s best research talent.

Ten University Internationalization Challenges

At the beginning of the SiH Program, the pilot universities were given ten internationalization goals to strive toward. A brief summary of how they met those objectives is as follows.

1) Organization made more responsive to internationalization by having university president take the lead
2) Internationalization strategically promoted by establishing concrete numerical objectives with accompanying action plan and evaluation system
3) Stable internationalization activities promoted by establishing a framework within the university for securing external funding
4) Strategic international collaborations, including consortiums, increased with overseas institutions of higher education
5) Internationally oriented education and research advanced
6) Training system enhanced for staffs engaged in international programs
7) Support strengthened for receiving/maintaining overseas researchers
8) Number of young Japanese researchers sent overseas increased
9) Effective internationalization promoted using the functions of universities’ overseas bases
10) Ripple effect of good cases of university internationalization

These results are being widely disseminated to other universities throughout Japan so that they may emulate the program initiatives and innovations that yielded them when preparing and implementing their own campus-wide internationalization strategies.

Hokkaido University’s faculty-development program at Leiden University, the Netherlands Waseda University’s international visiting scholars conference
Hokkaido University’s faculty-development program at Leiden University, the Netherlands
Waseda University’s international visiting scholars conference

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JSPS Quarterly No.31 2010