The Worldfolio sat down with Ryuichi Oka, President of the University of Aizu, to discuss internationalization of the Japanese higher-education system, and how Aizu University preparing its students to take on the critical roles in areas such as AI and robotics
How important is higher education in the internationalization process of Japan?
Historically, Japanese culture has always been an accepting culture towards foreign influences. Foreign countries such as China in the 2nd century and Western countries from the middle ages have greatly influenced Japanese culture. We can see examples of this in the architecture of Kyoto, Nara and Kamakura. I personally believe that Japanese culture is a mix of many cultures, which has influenced Japanese architecture, gardens, whilst also affecting the daily lives and the behaviour of Japanese people.
Therefore, we can notice that Japan is open to foreign culture, and is keen to internationalize itself. In todays society, the Japanese internationalization of it’s higher education is in line with its history. This type of internationalization is necessary in order to enhance the academic achievements of the Japanese society, which will ultimately to stimulate our economy.
How important are Asian students in the internationalization process of the Japanese higher-education system?
Asian students have the same mentality as Japanese students, and have a bigger attraction to our culture than non-Asian students. Today, with the numerous problems that our country is facing, our country is happy to keep the brightest students here, and will help them find a job in Japan, once they have graduated from university.
What is the impact of Japan’s decreasing demographic on its education sector?
The decreasing demographics is without a doubt a critical problem we are facing today in Japan. However, we can notice that this problem is happening in most industrialized countries. The real question today is: “How can we get a better quality of life in Japan?”
Technology is an amplifier of human power in both physical and intelligent aspects. Therefore, one of the objectives of education is to train students so that they can create new technologies which can compensate the labour shortage, namely AI, big-data analysis, robotics and micro-machinery.
Since its establishment, the University of Aizu has continuously focused on AI, robotics, big data analysis and other related fields. Therefore, our university is at the forefront of many promising fields of research and other developments which will undeniably shape our future.
How is Aizu University fostering the minds of the 4th industrial revolution?
Every revolution is based on the culture of their respective country. What I mean by this is, for example, the samurai spirit is the identity of Japanese students, while China and other country’s have their own identity which reflects their culture. Another important thing is to understand the quote made by a Japanese famous novel writer, “Ryotaro Shiba”: “Every original work is created by the boy’s pure and honest mind.” This is fundamental when inventing original works which will contribute to any industrial revolution. We strongly hope that student of the University of Aizu will follow this quote, and be able to adapt it to their own culture and beliefs.
What is the strengths and weaknesses of Japan’s higher education today?
In Japan, students from elementary school to graduate school can learn most of the educational content by reading textbooks written in Japanese. Many important books such as social sciences and engineering which are originally written in foreign languages are ultimately translated into Japanese.
However, this situation is regarded as a strength in Japan. When we compare this to other countries, such as Sweden, Denmark or Norway, it is undeniably a strength, as they have to learn English in order to study these subjects. In Japan, graduation thesis, master thesis and even doctor thesis are written in Japanese. In addition, most journals which accept submitted papers are written in Japanese. I believe this is the main reason why Japanese students are weak in English. However, the latest worldwide academic papers are currently written in English and most international conferences and journals are English-based. Therefore, it is critical for our students to learn English, in order to be able communicate with most international communities.
How do you rate the government’s initiative in supporting Japan’s higher education sector?
When we look at the internationalization of Japanese higher education, there is undeniably a barrier in foreign students being accepted in the Japanese society. As proof, the number of foreign students in Japan is currently weak. Currently, we can notice that all the conditions are not reunited to accept foreign students. Offering a full scholarship is not sufficient nowadays. We need to be able to offer full English courses for every program, whilst being able to provide dormitories and the adequate care and attention that foreign students require. The Japanese government is undeniably supporting universities. However, the budget of the government is insufficient to be able to increase the number of international students. Faculty members and administrative staff need to make more efforts in order to increase the attractiveness of our country.
Can you take us through the history of UoA and its major milestones?
Twenty-four years ago, UoA was established. The mission of university is to confirm that ICT is a critical field in order to “Advance knowledge for humanity”, and it has therefore become our motto. Our university’s goal is to endlessly create key technologies in the field of ICT
Can you tell us more about your motto to “Shine as Pioneers”?
“Shine as Pioneers” means that each student should be a pioneer of innovation, after graduating from the University of Aizu. We want each of our students to graduate with special skills which will allow them to develop tomorrow’s technologies. However, this is not an easy task because ICT is constantly changing and evolving. However, by promoting flexible minds, we will be able to develop the minds of tomorrow whilst also contributing to todays technology.
Can you tell us more about the classes and facilities that you offer today?
Top-down learning, which we have implemented in our university, is a unique learning method which consists of teaching each student before their graduation thesis what basic skills and knowledge they will need to have before conducting academic papers. We do not ask students to conduct research work, but we ask them to absorb all the material that is needed in order for them to be ready when starting they thesis. This is what we call top-down learning.
Another feature of our school that we are really proud of is the fact that foreign students can graduate from undergraduate, masters and doctorate school by only taking English courses.
What is the competitive advantage of your University?
We can provide a unique environment by mixing the Japanese and Western way of research and it is a unique one for creating original algorithms in ICT technology. The Japanese way of thinking is holistic, while the western one is analytic. By mixing both educations, we create a unique and complete educational system.
Looking at the future, what developments will you implement to increase the attractiveness of UoA?
We hope to make the University of Aizu of the best place to make breakthroughs in ICT technology in Japan, and to make the University of Aizu the perfect melting pot of Japan’s technology and foreign cultures.
How do you train young students to become entrepreneurs?
Every year, we send students to Silicon-Valley. Over there, they obtain communication experiences with engineers as well as being able to show their own products to many important people in Silicon-Valley. Today, the US is still providing better venture companies than Japan, and this is undeniable. Our students are automatically stimulated by the unique atmosphere that Silicon Valley procures, and it gives them a concrete example of how they can commercialize their products.
Can you tell us more about your capabilities and about the services you offer to host foreign students?
We have dual degree program which allows foreign students to take multiple degrees. Foreign and Japanese students can take the opportunity to visit Silicon-Valley as well as taking part-time jobs in ICT companies around the University of Aizu.
How would you convince an international student to come study in Japan and in the University of Aizu?
When we analyse todays world, I personally believe that ICT seems to be one of the most promising fields for the future. Nowadays, the Japanese society is willing to offer jobs to foreign students, as it seeks to tackle the decreasing demographics issue. The advantage that we have is that our university is set in a unique setting, and is the perfect place to acquire the skills and the know-how that students will need to become the leaders of tomorrow.