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The university creating “World Citizens” produces Japan’s most employable graduates

Interview - November 17, 2015

Without giving up its strong beliefs, founding values and Japanese culture, Kwansei Gakuin University is aiming to use education to help students becoming more active on the world stage. Osamu Murata, President of the Kwansei Gakuin University, explains how the holistic, global experience students receive has made them highly in demand in industry.



How important is the development of the education sector to the success of Abenomics and can Abenomics work without a more international education system here in Japan?

As you are aware, there are three arrows to Abenomics. The first being monetary easing, second being dynamic fiscal policy, the third being the growth strategy. Unfortunately it is this growth strategy part of the Abenomics that is yet to be clarified, but I believe that higher education’s role is realizing this growth strategy cannot be overstated and I’m sure you are aware of the need for highly educated labor to be employed in various parts of the European Union, which has created some issues that have yet to be overcome. For example, the various education systems within the European Union, with France not having a Bachelor’s degree or England having the three-year university degree.

So out of this has arisen a concept of competency. This is an issue that the higher education institutions of the world including the United States are facing at the moment, and Japan is among those various countries facing this issue of how to globalize.

Just as the various developed nations are conducting university reform, Japan’s universities must do the same, and Abenomics is promoting the growth of people who are capable of enacting and innovation. We believe that universities must be transformed from the current traditional model of simply pouring down knowledge into these young people, into creating human capital that is ready for a more globalized world. I believe that especially because Japan has no natural resources, so the role human resources will play in the growth strategy of Abenomics is crucial.

There is also a drastic transformation in the education sector that is happening in Japan as well. Central to this transformation is foreign language education, the internationalization of Japanese universities and the strengthening of Japan’s identity and understanding for its youth.


What do you think are the biggest challenges to implementing these reforms?

First of all once our university has been chosen to promote the concept of a super global university or global human resources development, we have been well on our way to strengthening the linguistic education. But when you’re speaking about globalization in general, I don’t think the matter of language is the only or even one of the most important issues. I believe that the more important issue is developing competency or people who are capable of learning.

Actually the matriculation rates of Japanese students into universities is not as high as you may think. Among the OECD countries the average is over 60% of high school students matriculating into university, whereas in Japan it’s 52%. It’s not actually particularly high. And scholarships for traditional exchange students that are going abroad is something that is also being encouraged, like in countries as the US or in Australia with their Colombo Initiative. These countries are actively encouraging their students to study abroad and this is obviously not so that they can learn English, it is so that they can experience foreign culture, discover foreign environments. This should lead to new discoveries that were previously not possible and this leads into your third point, which is Japanese identity. In order to know what is foreign to you, you first need to know what you are and what your identity is and also know about your language.

I think of Japanese identity and language as a starting point from which people can open themselves up to experiencing different cultures. In the US, Australia and Europe, students are actively being sent to study abroad and then returning with higher motivations to continue their studies.


Last year Kwansei Gakuin celebrated its 125th anniversary, making it one of the oldest institutions in Japan and interestingly it was founded by an American missionary in order to create world citizens. Can you give our US audience a bit of a background on this rich history?

Indeed, thank you for noticing that it was Kwansei Gakuin University’s 125th birthday. It was founded in Kobe by a missionary from the US named Walter Russell Lambuth, 126 years ago. He was a missionary of the Southern Methodist Faith and he actually visited the whole world, including China, Africa, Europe and South America, both as a medical and educational missionary. Although he was in Japan only for one year, he founded Kwansei Gakuin, which is now obviously celebrating its 126th anniversary. It is very important for us that our university is founded on Protestant principles, Methodist Christian principles.

There’s a book by Max Weber called The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and it explains how the spirit of Protestantism enabled capitalism to come into being and flourished. We have inherited this way of thinking and this has led to many of our alumni becoming business people. You can say that our universities’ principles have a very close affinity with American universities. Actually, our university is the only one in Kansai region where Ambassador Caroline Kennedy visited and talked to the students. And, of course, we have partnerships with many American universities.

To summarize, the first main part of our identity is being based on Christian principles. The second point is that at the same time we also value Japanese culture and our campus is actually often seen to look like Stanford University campus. We have a clock tower and then a mountain behind it called the Kabuto Mountain, and this is actually a mountain that was the base for indigenous worship in the traditional Japan. In the Bible there is a phrase about looking up at Mount Sinai and we think of this Mount Kabuto as our Mount Sinai. As you can see we have a lot of affinity with America. I may add that we are also very close to the US thanks to our beloved American football team and for the last four consecutive years we have been number one in Japan among the American college football teams. Recently we had Princeton come to Japan and so we were able to play against the US American football teams and we have symposiums alongside this as well.


MEXT has launched an ambitious campaign, Super Global University, to fund Japan’s universities in order to dramatically increase the amount of Japanese universities that are in the top 100 globally, from the current two to 10 in a decade. KGU was of course one of the private universities chosen to receive funding from this program as a university promoting globalization. Can you outline your intentions for this program? How do you plan on attracting this international recognition?

We are a private university so our main focus is educating our students and we do this under the school motto of “Mastery for Service”, and in particular we are aiming to “create world citizens who embody the spirit of Mastery for Service”. I’m actually very thankful that you mentioned earlier the expression “World Citizen” because the normal expression to use these days would be “global citizen” but we use “World Citizen” because this is what is inscribed on the grave of our founder Lambuth.

We aim to use education to help students become more active on the world stage and for that we believe it is very important for them to come into contact with various perspectives. One of the pillars of us having become one of top global universities is for our students not to only focus on one area but have the opportunities to come into contact with other areas at the same time. For example, a student in economics will also be encouraged to study in other faculties as well, or to engage in an active social life, to be learning outside of the classroom. And why not study abroad? I’ll bring up Steve Jobs as an example. He said, “Creativity and creation arises when you undertake two different things simultaneously.” This is something that we must continue challenging our students with. Our operating system is in fact to create students who can contribute to the world and make a difference.

Actually, today we gave a press conference and I mentioned that in 2017 our university is beginning a graduate course aimed at nurturing students who may work internationally. It’s called the United Nations and Diplomacy Course. In the UN we currently have less than 90 employees who are Japanese in posts where the principle of geographical distribution applies; although we pay significant amounts to the United Nations, we don’t have enough trained people who could contribute by becoming staff there, when we could have more than 200 people.

Our university is becoming the momentum force increasing the number of students who can go on to become diplomats or employees at international organizations because we believe that these kinds of people are perfect examples of world citizens who are committed to Mastery for Service.


You’re actually going to be feeding your graduates into the United Nations in an internship program that could also lead to careers in the UN and diplomatic core?

Yes, we are thinking seriously about supporting the career paths of the students and we have created a KGU Center of United Nations Human Resources, and we are currently working on a support system so that we can follow through with the graduates as they pursue their careers.


As you continue to grow internationally, what is the brand that you’re building here at Kwansei?

In one concept, creating a world citizen embodied by our founder Lambuth. We aim to create businesspersons who can be active in the world stage. In fact among the large-scale private universities of Japan there are maybe over 4,000 students graduating every year. Our university has been the number one university where the students are able to find employment.

Also when we create these businesspersons, we aim to have them act not only in self-serving ways, but also for people – to work in order to achieve happiness for human beings. This is a Christian principle from which our university was founded.

Earlier you mentioned the word holistic and holistic education, and I believe that the world today demands from people to have a holistic perspective rather than being focused on a narrow area. I am very proud to say that we are able to provide that kind of person based on our background of Christian principles and frontier spirit.

Our university was founded in Kobe, which is a port city from where a lot of things emanate. For example, even today, fashion is said to emanate from Kobe. So Kobe is also an embodiment of the frontier spirit and of course this frontier spirit will lead to innovation and as exemplified by our motto Mastery for Service.


Kwansei Gakuin University already counts as partners some of the United States’ most prestigious education institutions, such as Georgetown or American University, but how are you working to increase the partnerships you have in the US, something that Ambassador Kennedy has been very active in working to grow?

To give you one example, we are inviting the marching band from UC Berkeley to have a collaboration with Wenden Symbol. Also our chancellor is American, so of course we have strong ties thanks to her as well.

Our relationship with the US has always been strong and I mentioned earlier how we have been number one for eight consecutive years in the percentage of students who are able to find employment after graduation. Actually we are especially focusing on creating individuals who can become innovators and entrepreneurs in startups. With this in mind, we’re trying to find ways that we can realize this in the classroom and also introduce students to the possibility of working in foreign capital companies. It is true that Japan has a very unique work life and that is now starting to change, but it is still there. In foreign capital companies, working life is quite different and the environment is very different as well. We have invited people from GE Japan, from IBM and from Disney Japan to give lectures to our students to open their mind about other culture. All of them are companies with headquarters in the US. As you can see, of course we’ve already had strong ties with the United States through our founder being an American missionary, but we are still continuing to strengthen our ties with the US.


Abenomics aims to reorient Japan for a more globalized world. There are m more women in the workforce, more single parent families. What would you say is the responsibility of leading educational institutions, especially with your Christian principles, to helping to guide Japan’s cultural shift?

As former minister of education Shimomura mentioned, and I agree with him in that sense, the ministry needs to put more efforts into increasing the number of grants rather than loans, because in Japan at the moment most of our scholarships are in the form of loans rather than grants. The former minister of education Shimomura and I were both committee members of Ashinaga. It’s a charity to provide funding for financially underprivileged students and actually the chairman of this charity received an award in the US.

Japan is noted for a fairly narrow disparity gap among the countries of the world, and this is also linked with the fact that our university was founded by a US missionary who had these Christian ideals and was dedicated to providing opportunities equally. Therefore we always had a fairly well developed scholarship system in our university, and we are currently making efforts to expand them even further.

I believe that capitalism will continue in the future. I know it’s either capitalism or socialism – but it looks like it’s going to be capitalism – and when I talk about aiming for equality I don’t mean equality in results but equality in where people start out in life, and the opportunities that they have in front of them. I think that education is a very important factor in that and I strongly believe that we should always be aiming to provide access to higher education for all people, all of them.

I think this is also related to the fact that our founder went all over the world providing medical and educational opportunities for all. I do believe it is important for us to continue the Japanese tradition of having a small difference gap between the social economic classes and to offer the same start line for everyone.