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Ritsumeikan University set to be the gateway to Asian education with its new Osaka-Ibaraki campus

Interview - August 19, 2015

Chancellor Yoshida highlights the exciting transformation happening in Japan’s education sector and why Ritsumeikan University is ideal positioned to not only be “Asia’s Gateway” for international students, but also lead the way in shaping Japan’s youth for a more globalized world.


Japan is truly going through an exciting time at the moment. In a period of global economic recession, Japan is making the difficult choices to reorient its economy for a more globalized world. As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said, Japan is taking economic reforms that are “once in a generation,” thanks to the economic paradigm popularly known as Abenomics. How important is the development of the Education sector for the success of Abenomics? Can Abenomics work without a more international education system here in Japan?

Abenomics is an approach to raise global human resources and to develop further innovation for strengthening the growth of a university.

The concept of wanting to enrich the international education system is an important factor, and only if the policy of finance and the strategy to develop globalization in universities fit perfectly with each other, will we then be able to say that Abenomics works.

In April 2015, the new Osaka-Ibaraki Campus (OIC) is expected to become a global hub as we are looking to begin the joint bachelor program courses with our latest partner, the Australian National University (ANU).

In relation to this, as Prime Minister Abe was on a visit to Australia, he was in attendance when the two universities signed the MoU in July 2014.

Prime Minister Abe was delighted to see the two universities partnering up with each other.

As I play a pivotal role in leading Ritsumeikan University, I cannot comment on whether the Abenomics will be a success in relation to the international education system in Japan.

Yet, as Ritsumeikan University and Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University were selected as participating universities for the Top Global University project, we are looking to go beyond borders to form an advanced education system for our university and hopefully we will continue to raise global human resources under Abenomics.

In this sense, Ritsumeikan will develop a world-class global education and when we succeed, we will then be able to say that Abenomics was on our side.

Following the Global 30 (G30) Program (2009-2013), the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has launched an ambitious campaign, the Top Global University Project, to fund Japan's universities in order to double the number of Japanese universities that are in the top 100 globally, from currently five to 10 in a decade, with an emphasis of attracting international professors and partnerships from prestigious international universities. Ritsumeikan University was one of the private universities chosen for this. How are you working to increase your international reputation?

Following the G30 program, in 2014 both Ritsumeikan University and Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University were selected by MEXT as participants for the “Top Global University” project. 

The ministry-appointed panel of experts selected 37 institutions among 104 applications and these institutions will hold the status from October 1st to the end of the fiscal year 2023.

As the Chancellor of the Ritsumeikan Academy, I feel extremely honored as both universities under the Ritsumeikan Trust were chosen.

The key to raising recognition globally, our first step would be to raise the qualities of education and research.

In order to achieve such goals, we need to 1) form partnerships with world-class universities, 2) create a university and a campus which will attract excellent faculty, staff and students from all over the world, 3) look to move up the world ranking of universities.

Regarding 1), we have developed partnerships with universities such as UBC in British Columbia, Canada, and American University which is located in Washington, DC for more than 20 years.

We will develop a joint bachelor program with our latest partner, the Australian National University, and we look to develop a new standpoint in Asia and Japan from our core research institution, which is based in the Kansai area in Japan.

Regarding 2), the new Osaka-Ibaraki Campus opened in April and it is located in Ibaraki City, which is between Kyoto and Osaka. The objective of this campus is to provide an environment for high quality education and research.

The goal of Ritsumeikan University is to be among the top 200 in the world ranking for universities and secure the top three spots of private institutes in Japan. Ritsumeikan’s Kinugasa Campus is located in the world-famous city in Kyoto.

The Biwako-Kusatsu Campus has a European-style campus which is wide and open and students here learn about robotics, science and engineering.

This April, the Osaka-Ibaraki Campus saw its grand opening and this campus is expected to promote the education and research activities on the frontline. Geographically, the three campuses have formed a triangle, which we are the only university to do so in Japan.

Our ultimate goal is to gather top researchers and students to raise the quality of education and research. If we can achieve these, I believe ranking within the top 100 would not be a dream.

While Japan and Ritsumeikan strive to increase the number of exchange students, it is also important to keep in mind the source of these foreign students. According to recent figures from the Japan Student Services Organization, over 90% of exchange students in Japan are Asian. Why is this happening? How can RU and indeed Japan increase the diversity of your international students?

Although 90% of the degree-seeking students are from Asia, around 30% of the students on the short-term programs are from North America or Europe.

One of the reasons is because in order to enter universities in Japan, students need to first enroll at Japanese language schools to sharpen their Japanese language efficiency.

After the students have passed the N1 level of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), they will then take the entrance exams of the Japanese universities.

In this sense, it is easier for students with Chinese background to acquire the Japanese language because they already know the Chinese characters.

As a way to create a friendlier environment for the students from Western countries, we have increased the number of courses which are offered in English and students can receive their degree with these English-based courses.

Therefore, students from overseas can enter universities in Japan directly. The Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, which opened in 2000, has taken the most advanced global education approach in implementing courses in both Japanese and English. As a result of this, students can receive their degree by taking only English courses.

At Ritsumeikan University, students of the College of International Relations and the College of Policy Science can also graduate with taking only English courses.

In addition, for most of our graduate schools we have already developed such approaches to create a more globalized education and research environment.

However, as the information is not widely known overseas, we believe it is a key for us to strengthen the promotion of our university globally.

We believe that we need to make a strong pitch to the public so people become more familiar with our education system, research and other related activities.

Ritsumeikan recently announced the opening of a new campus at Osaka-Ibaraki, which can host up to 6,000 students and is designed to be a hub in Asia for education and research with a unique campus-environment specially designed to promote interaction between students, academic staff, entrepreneurs and industrialists. Is this the key to Ritsumeikan’s internationalization?

You are absolutely right. One of the concepts of OIC is the “Asia’s Gateway”. Utilizing this outstanding campus and environment, we are looking to recruit students and exceptional researchers from around the world.

We are also looking to establish colleges and graduate schools in the field of business to attract more international students.

At the College of Policy Science and the Graduate School of Policy Science, students can now receive a degree with taking only English courses.

We are also planning to launch a research institute focusing on the outlook of Asia and as we have partnered with the Australian National University (ANU) for a joint bachelor program, we are looking to begin the courses at OIC.

We are looking to further enhance the global strategies at Ritsumeikan University.

How do you describe these opportunities?

We have specific targets for the number of students that we want to send overseas to study, and that's 4,500 students that we would like to become exchange students by 2023.

So, I mentioned that we have ties with British Columbia University in Canada and with the American University. In Canada, we have already 2,000 students who have gone abroad and have completed the program.

With the American University we have a double-degree program with them and we already have 300 students who have completed it.

The number of international students at Ritsumeikan University in 2014 was 1,440, with APU at 2,379. Ritsumeikan prides itself at the total number of international students, at 3,819 and its various programs.

Ritsumeikan’s strategies include 1) globalization in the field of science and engineering 2) globalization in the field of human studies and social science 3) launching a new research institute in OIC and developing the joint-bachelor program with ANU 4) setting up a Japanese-style foundation course and 5) construction of the international dormitory.

As the global strategy for the field of science and engineering, we have established a joint department between Dalian University of Technology (China) and our College of Information Science and Engineering.

Furthermore, we have formed a partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad (IIT-H) where the students of India and Japan will study together under the Project-Based Learning program.

At Ritsumeikan Academy, there are a total of nine affiliate schools, from primary school to high schools where three of the high schools were designated as the Super Global High School by MEXT.

As the President of Ritsumeikan University and the Chancellor of Ritsumeikan Academy, as well as APU and the education of our affiliate schools, I have the responsibility to develop Ritsumeikan into a more globalized institution.

Ritsumeikan continues to contribute significantly to research in Japan. Indeed, Ritsumeikan was ranked third for the amount of research funding, with 1.1 billion yen from MEXT, and has continually been one of a number of recipients of funding from the private sector as well. How important is this interaction with the private sector? Is this an indicator of international recognition?

In Ritsumeikan’s Midterm Plan, it aims to become a “distinctive global research university” by 2020. One of the important indices is the number of scientific researches selected and the amount of the Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (kakenhi) that come from MEXT, as it is believed to be the most competitive research funds in Japan.

In Japan, there is a huge difference between national universities and private universities in financial support by the government.

Private universities are under a very strict situation and thus, for the private universities to strive, we have to take an active stance in order to receive Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (kakenhi) and external funding.

Ritsumeikan University ranks the first in the number of funded researches from corporations. We consider research capability as one of the most pivotal factors to raise Ritsumeikan’s recognition in the world.

As the Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (kakenhi) is an objective standard which shows the research capability of a university, we consider it as one of our priorities.

If interdisciplinary research is accelerated, we will see an increase in collaborative projects with oversea universities and organizations.

As Ritsumeikan University looks to further develop itself as a global university, we will make continuous efforts to receive research funds.

In this globalized world, the importance of countries to brand themselves and communicate their strengths to the international community cannot be overstated. Considering Japan is coming to the end of two decades of poor economic performance and taking this opportunity to reach out with America’s leading media, Newsweek, how then would you like our Americans to perceive Japan?

Although it is said that Japan’s economy has been suffering from the post-bubble economic depression for the past 20 years and it has gone through an unprecedented earthquake and power plant accident, the power that people have toward revitalization cannot be under-estimated.

Japan might have received world attention as a country with great economic power, but this does not mean Japan is wealthy. It feels as if the world has changed to a state which people now seek for the richness in the mind and culture.

People around the world pay more attention to the history of Japan, its traditional cultures and its food culture but this is not all that Japan can offer.

After the earthquake, we have witnessed the “omotenashi (hospitality)” culture where people have helped each other through difficult times.

On top of this, Japan also prides itself in the so-called “Cool Japan” which focuses on pop culture and its famous cutting-edge technologies.

We sincerely hope that the readers in the U.S. will get a chance to see the attractions of Japan and consider studying in Japan as one of their options.

We will, certainly, initiate high quality education programs that will meet the world standard.

Japan is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and is close to the Far-Eastern countries, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the west coast of North America. Japan is located in the very center of the Pacific Rim.

Ritsumeikan University’s new campus, Osaka-Ibaraki Campus, will serve as a global gateway and cultivate human resources who can meet the world standards.

As the president of Ritsumeikan University, in a decade I want to lead this university to a higher ground where we will raise more global human capitals and when people talk about prestigious universities in the world, Ritsumeikan University will be the one that represents Japan.