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University builds true global citizens with a multipronged internationalization strategy

Interview - March 7, 2018

Mr. Kenji Yokoyama, Vice President of APU, and Mr. Yuichi Kondo, Dean of APU, explain how cleverly designed living quarters, foreign faculty members and embracing many languages and cultures gives their students an edge over the competition as global citizens



In recent years, Japan has been labeled by some researchers as one of the Troubled Twins of Globalization. Once, Japan saw strong economic growth during a period known as the Economic Miracle, which many have attributed to the strength of education. But in recent years, Japan has been seen as shutting the doors on globalization after the crisis in the 80s and 90s. From your point of view, with the decreasing demographic line, how important is higher education today for Japan to regain its international leadership?

Kenji Yokoyama: As you know, right now Japan has a very difficult demographic situation. In 1992 we saw the peak number of 18 year olds in Japan. Today, that number has been decreasing steadily. In 2010 we had our highest population at almost 130 million people. After 2010, the number started decreasing.

Every year our population decreases by dozens of thousands of people. This creates a big problem for the corporate world, as they have a serious lack of human resources. Companies need people.

Another problem is that our demographic change starts with the decrease of the younger generation. An economy is normally sustained by young people and we need them. But as you know, Japan has no official means for accepting foreign people directly into the country in a long-term basis. Of course, Japan accepts some people like doctors, professors, English teachers, and lawyers – these people can get a visa very easily. But other than these groups, we do not readily accept workers from other countries. Other legal ways of living in Japan long term include going to an undergraduate program, then getting a masters, and then entering the corporate world.

From this point of view, education plays a very important role. We need to accept international students as much as possible. We can then send them out to the corporate world.

Japanese companies have been suffering from lack of global talent for a long time. Believe it or not, most Japanese business people have no strong negotiation ability. They are quite conservative and quiet. They are often wallflowers. Companies need people they can send to other countries. They need global-ready talent. But in-house training cannot be enabled to achieve global talent. It takes a long time.

If universities accept global talent from all over the world, train them, adjust them to Japanese culture, provide Japanese language ability – we’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone. From this point, I believe Japanese colleges play a very important role.

Yuichi Kondo: Because Japan’s population is decreasing, it would be desirable to receive more immigrants. But Japanese society first has to be ready to accept those immigrants. Japanese tend to believe that we are a very homogeneous country – even though this isn’t entirely true – and the myth of homogeneous society and culture sometimes hinders the motivation to increase diversity.

We have to internationalize our home. Knowing that more than 70% of high school students go on to university here, if universities do not provide an internationalized curriculum, our society will not be capable of receiving immigrants in a good way. Japanese society is not tolerant of racial conflict, we have not been exposed to it for a long time, and if something drastic happens, like just one terrorist attack, that’s the end of diversification. Japan will move very fast against any promotion of an international society, or even of just having immigrants, should this happen. But this shouldn’t happen, so we have to educate Japanese people to try to go more global.

Recently we’ve been talking a lot about leadership and global citizenship. Leadership is something that comes after being a global citizen. There are many leaders in the world who don’t have the right global background. This is why we put emphasis on global citizenship at our university.

At our university, we are a local community. We are not just training students, we are trying to also educate the local citizens so they understand what it is like living with students from Africa, Latin America, etc. This way people are not always staring at you when you are a foreigner.

At first, international students found that local residents would look at them a lot. This is because locals were not used to seeing international people. Our students thought locals were being rude – but they were just not used to it. But now we see that people in the local community have become accustomed to international people, so we are also helping the community in this way.


How important do you believe Asia and Asian students to be for Japan? How different is APU in its approach to welcoming foreign students?

Yokoyama: We need a lot of human resources. Asian people are of course geographically very close to us. They are quite accustomed to Japanese culture, compared to European or American students. It’s much easier for us to recruit Asian students. Some Asian students used to come to Japan to study. There were paths for this. But those paths were only open to fluent Japanese students, otherwise they couldn’t get into Japanese colleges. English speakers weren’t able to come to Japan. This is why we started language education and foreign language education. This has opened up a very big market in Asia.

Kondo: We have to have another idea about quality. A high number of students is important, but quality is also important. When we talk about quality, students from outside of Japan should not just know about their country and Japan, they also must know about the world. We have to have people who can go anywhere in the world and work. Some ideas about Europe, Latin America, Africa, otherwise you cannot do business there at all. This is often the missing link in international education. Only when we started doing work in global education did people start thinking about APU differently. Now when people think about Ritsumeikan APU, they think: their students can speak Japanese, English, Spanish, languages from Africa – it’s multilingual. This is the time for a multilingual society. Not just English and a native language. This will give human resources more flexibility and our students will have more opportunities.


As a young university, one that is challenging the status quo, could you give us the strengths and weaknesses of Japan’s higher education and of your university as well?

Yokoyama: Generally speaking, Japanese universities have high-quality classes in engineering, science, and technology. Research areas at the post-graduate level are very good in these fields. We generate a lot of Nobel prize winners. That’s one of our high-performance areas. When it comes to undergraduate education, it’s very weak, especially in the field of internationalization. It’s one reason why Japanese universities are often not high in any international ranking system. But our international undergraduate education gets full marks. When it comes to post-graduate research level, well, we are not the best.

Another strength of education at our university is that we have more than half of our students from outside of Japan. About 97.8% of them are undergraduate degree students, they’re not here on an exchange basis. They’re here to stay at least four years. This means their involvement in curriculum, in extra-curricular activities, and involvement in the local community is very serious. This is the main difference between APU and other international universities.

Kondo: Japanese education used to be very selective and elitist. But like in the US it went on to become open to the masses. The pedagogy and curriculum stayed the same with the elitist institutions, so we are not really making an effort to change. This is an issue we’re having. For engineering and sciences, this is still very selective. For social sciences and humanities, where we have to receive tons of high schoolers, these won’t be researchers anymore, they’ll be regular citizens.

We are supposed to change our universities, but many in Japan have not changed. While British institutions changed drastically, only Oxford and Cambridge stayed the same way, but others localized their education for the masses, focusing on employability. But for Japanese universities and sometimes for faculty members, employability is a dirty word. This is because it has a direct conflict with the scholastic goals of research. Research is important too. But our students need to be trained so they can have some employability otherwise it’s not good for universities in general.


You mentioned that APU students are different in the eyes of employers. We checked the statistics and found a 92% employment rate after graduation, one of the highest rates we’ve seen. How do you ensure the quality of your classes? How do you ensure that your students are so fit to graduate?

Kondo: We want to make sure students find a career, not a job. A lot of times, Japanese universities want to send their students to companies to get a job quickly. But for our students, after they get a job, this ends up being a career. This is very un-Japanese. We want to change students’ mindset about their future life, not just focus on getting a job. Getting a job is fine. But companies can go bankrupt, and society changes, and jobs can disappear in 15 years with advancements in technology, so students have to keep learning. We emphasize career education, not just a job hunting seminar.

In their first year, students have the opportunity to take a Career Design class, which is run by a career counselor, not a professor. It’s not just about resumes and being a good student. We have to change the mindset to be more career-oriented. We have our alumni come to our campus and talk with students, this helps too.

Yokoyama: Our students want to get a higher degree. They are not satisfied with an undergraduate degree. They want an MBA, a Master of Sciences, a PhD, even if they become a business person.

Kondo: Some companies hire our students in order to diversify their team. They want more diversity and they come to us to find people from overseas. Fujitsu hires 10-15 of our students per year. Mitsubishi employs our students as well.

Yokoyama: When we started our university, no one expected our students to get job offers in Japan. But when our students started job hunting, they received very good job offers. They have a high language ability, high English, high Japanese, and their native tongue as well. They receive good jobs from prime countries.

Kondo: At the beginning, the attention was focused more on international students, but now because of this interesting education, businesses are also interested in our Japanese students. I can send them anywhere in the world and they will survive. They can go to an overseas posting as early as possible.

Those international students who work in Japan are dispatched overseas often. Koreans in Gaza, Koreans in the US, Vietnamese students in South America, they are there bridging between Japanese and locals, even though they’re not Japanese. They have a multilingual and multicultural competency.

Yokoyama: One reason our students are so different is that APU has a very unique environment with almost 100% degree seekers and so many of them are from other countries. Students make a very big decision to come here. Ordinary people won’t come.


Your university achieves the vision of international criteria. Looking at the future we know that you are working on your APU 2030 Vision which is supposed to take the next step for your university. Can you tell us more about this vision?

Kondo: Our vision talks about different ideas for university education. It’s about global citizenship: how we want to educate students to become citizens of the world. This is a challenge for us. Are we doing the right thing? Are we helping them to become global citizens? We look back at our services and reflect so we can be guided and improve.

Most Japanese universities have a vague motto and a mission statement that involves a philosophy. But our university goes beyond this with global standards.

This vision is to help our students be change agents. To change the world as a global citizen, and we want to achieve an environment that fully supports this by 2030.

Yokoyama: We have a cultural ethos here supporting our 2030 Vision. One thing that helps is having a global, multicultural environment.


An important milestone in your history was being one of only 3 universities in Japan to have to gain AACSB accreditation for your undergrad and grad business programs, which is very important for any business administration school. Can you tell us more about the importance of this and how it helps to increase your attractiveness?

Yokoyama: When I started doing accreditation work in 2008 I wanted to help our university gain international attention. 65% of our school of management students are not from Japan. This means that our competition is not in Japan. Our competition is in Asia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the best university in each country. Nobody knew us. We needed a signaling effect. Right now we are listed as an accredited university. There are many accredited universities around the world, and now we are in that list. We needed to get the word out there and this helps.

Through this process we realized we could take advantage of external pressure in the AACSB. As a result of the process, we improved our education and research quality.

We are a quite young university. Nobody knew us. This has helped.

Kondo: Through this process I found that the world is moving in a very different direction than Japanese universities. Rubrics, evaluation schemes, curriculums, most Japanese universities aren’t aware of how these areas are improving internationally.

We were very happy to learn and implement change through the process of gaining AACSB accreditation.

Yokoyama: After getting accredited we found more students came here. A slightly larger number of students started to come from North America. Tuitions in North America are very high and they want to find more reasonable places. And having this accreditation, along with speaking English here, makes a big difference. Not a huge increase in numbers, but we hope to see more people over time.


One of the things you mentioned about the AACSB is that it allowed you to have a great education by aligning with international standards, but it also allowed you to increase your research capacity. Your university also founded the ICRD (International Cooperation and Research Division), with an objective to produce more advanced and internationalized research to answer the needs of society and of Japan. The ICRD grants research support, promotes international collaborations and Industry-Academia-Government projects. Could you tell us more about the importance of the ICRD?

Yokoyama: We want to take advantage of international joint research opportunities. In business, we are thinking of enhancing international joint research. Most of our faculty members are doing joint research in English. This will help us find more partners.


What developments would you like to see within 10 years at your university?

Yokoyama: I want more alumni to work in every corner of the world and to achieve what they wanted to do. I want to see them work for others with high altruism. This is what I dream for.

Kondo: The meaning of our existence is face to face interaction. In ten years' time, even if other universities go online, I want to see our university stay as dynamic and personal as it is now. We would like to see more and more innovation over time.