世界で活躍するグローバル・リーダーを bimonthly (隔月ごと）にYGCでインタビューしていきます。全て英語でインタビューが記載されていますので、是非最後まで頑張って読んでいきましょう！
- You proposed fall admission at The University of Tokyo (UTokyo) soon after you became its 29th President. When did you start to consider this proposal? Furthermore, what intentions did you have when initiating this project?
Academic internationalization at The University of Tokyo (UTokyo) has been its greatest hallmark since the university’s inception. However, while the faculty was enthusiastic about cross-border interactions, internationalization among the students was falling behind from earlier times. This had been on my mind since my days as the vice president and I strongly felt that I needed to do something about this issue.
Since I took office as the university’s president, UTokyo underwent educational reforms predicated on “toughness” and “going global,” but internationalization did not progress as favorably as planned. Simply advocating for students to “go abroad more” abates action. What is necessary here is to fundamentally sustain and strengthen a system that supports the international mobility of students and to change the mindsets of the various personnel involved in the process. This not only involves the awareness of students, but also the frame of mind of faculty, parents, and even the whole society. Without this mentality of transformation among all constituents, we did not believe that students going abroad was a realistic option, and so we sought to change the basic framework of the university and social systems through the forceful impact of fall admission.
In other words, by fall admission, we did not mean to merely change the commencement period. Again, the aim of this initiative abided in reforming the system as well as “raising awareness.” I wanted to share and raise awareness of values such as “going abroad enhancing one’s capabilities within a diverse environment” and “enriching one’s life through experiences abroad,” within society as a whole. Without drastic changes, casually encouraging the students to “go abroad” or “go volunteer” would get us nowhere, and hence the idea of a fall admission was proposed.
Generally, my colleagues – board members and vice presidents – were on board with the idea of fall admission. Some articulated that it may not be an easy task, but not one person attempted to stop the reformation. Even from outside the school community, the business industry was particularly keen on the fall admission as they encouraged us to act on it as quickly as possible.
Woefully, the reality was not so simple as there were many more obstacles that we had to overcome than we initially imagined. We had to consider the complexities of negotiations with communities not just within the school but with political and industrial bodies, changes to employment and education frameworks, and repercussions it would have on other universities. In the end, we were unable to carry out the fall admission. But, not all was wasted as I do believe that this gave the university and students the opportunity to solemnly face and deeply consider the school’s internationalization. Educational reforms have been made progressively including the initiation of a four-term system. We knew that – in implementing educational reforms based on aforementioned “toughness” and “globalization” – things fettered due to the past ways of doing things which resulted in little progress and that it was necessary to kick start the process by thinking big instead of dwelling on changing small individual details. It was rather like this attempt at fall admission became part of the process along the way. No matter how difficult things may be, without embracing a challenge nothing can be achieved.
- What are some advantages of fall admission at UTokyo?
It would be the vast opportunity for diversity. The biggest issue UTokyo faces is “lack of diversity.” Without a doubt, UTokyo is a place where the brightest are gathered, but the threshold of the female student population can’t seem to exceed twenty percent. Further, while students from private secondary (junior and senior high) schools in the metropolitan area increased, we lost many students who have matriculated from public high schools in local areas. In addition to gender, geographic areas, and features of the schools where students matriculated from, there lacks diversity in the level of family income, number of international students due to low numbers, and so on. I felt that we would be in a vulnerable position in regards to the education of students who will live in the coming era of drastic changes. What is important in order to face this era of change is the ability to see things from a diverse perspective and fully utilize the various options at hand depending on the circumstances.
UTokyo admits students who are superior from standardized score aspects. After assuming office as the president, I have had aspirations on various capabilities for our students that needed to be developed further. To achieve this, we needed to incorporate more diversity into the learning environment, which was essentially the basis for our reform. I believed that internationalization was a significant factor in dealing with diversity.
- While huge repercussions could be expected not only in the education industry but also in other various fields, how do you think things would now be at UTokyo if the fall admission had been carried out last year?
Simply put, I believe that it would have become a society that could make use of changes.
Up until today, Japan’s society developed around a stable growth system. I think that our ways of learning and taking actions that lead to doing well in life and being useful to society can be perceived as a double-edged sword. But just as this scheme was losing efficacy in the midst of major changes in both Japanese and international societies, our weakness has further been exploited by the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Today many nations, especially the emerging countries, are striving to change in order to attain growth and development. If Japan were to settle with the current system, it would cause stagnation in society. As young people, in particular, will be living for many decades to come, they would need to acquire skills and abilities to be able to survive in this ever-changing world. To accomplish this, I wanted our society to be more resistant in the face of change and able to make choices from diverse values and lifestyles. Should fall admission have been rolled out, I think this is how our society may have started to evolve.
In addition to this, I think it would provide an opportunity for one to acquire the strength to endure change – or adapt the change to one’s strength – by questioning what it means to lead a smooth sailing life without detours in the learning environment in schools.
- We have seen a fluctuation of UTokyo’s positioning in the world university ranking in recent years. What do you think of this reality? Further, while we understand that we should not rely or emphasize heavily on rankings, what should the university do to raise its world ranking (presence)?
There are many factors that go into how schools are ranked, so it is difficult to make a general statement. For example, the year following my retirement from the presidency, there was a change in the database used as a basis for evaluating thesis papers, and not only UTokyo, but many universities in Japan dropped in rank. As a result, UTokyo’s ranking drastically dropped to 43rd from 23rd. And as you can see, ranking methodologies are subject to change from factors such that people may argue over the relevancy of rankings. In spite of this, UTokyo has restored its ranking up to 36th place these past few years. This, I think, is due to the increase in institutional income UTokyo has earned from collaborating with various industries; the results from the great effort put in by the current president, Dr. Gonokami. This certainly is one way to raise the school’s ranking. But, when going up against universities in the United States and Europe where the size of their endowments is just incomparable, relying on institutional income has its limits and that collaboration alone could have some side effects on the quality of education research. When looking at individual performance indicators of the university ranking, we may have seen a rise in institutional income, but a drop in the number of citations. Furthermore, when looking at the Times Higher Education Japan University Rankings, where universities are evaluated from the perspective of their educational qualities, UTokyo is somehow ranked third, behind Tohoku University and Kyoto University.
On the basis of ranking scores, internationalization is a crucial factor. This, however, as we emphasized as the focal point of a fall admission schedule, does not contribute to a higher ranking no matter how many students we send abroad. We cannot expect to gain higher points for internationalization without accepting more faculty and students from abroad. On the one hand, there are concerns that by forcing professors to conduct more lectures in English, accept more international students, and invite more faculty members from abroad, the school’s academic level might decline. For this reason, despite UTokyo inevitably being at a disadvantage when measured by the number of foreign faculty members and international students, I believe that it would not be in the school’s interest to go overboard just to raise the ranking score in the index of internationalization.
Within the performance indicators, the number of academic paper citations is extremely pivotal as it relates directly to the quality of research. One of the biggest challenges I saw in this area was whether the professors in Japan would be able to join the international network for researchers. Researchers tend to cite the papers of other researchers whom they not only trust for their achievements and reputations, but also for their personal association. Thus why paper citations would become difficult if researchers do not know each other. Many Japanese researchers go abroad and study diligently, but they often find themselves at a loss when it comes to networking. To increase the number of citations, I think it is vital that researchers solidly continue their research and concomitantly be active in the international network of researchers.
- The recent world university rankings have shown many universities from Asia being highly ranked. On the other hand, universities from Japan have not changed much nor raised their positionings in the ranking. What do you think needs to be done especially for UTokyo to be recognized on a global scale?
Although not a rapid solution, UTokyo may be viewed differently if many of our outstanding students study abroad at top-level institutions and enhance their global presence. UTokyo thus far has been ranked highly with a high reputation, but this is by virtue of what has been cultivated and established through its long history.
We certainly would like to raise the school’s ranking, but it was our aim not to push ourselves too hard. If we forced ourselves, perhaps our rankings would rise. However, as I mentioned earlier, we are concerned with the possibility of accepting too many international students and faculty members resulting in our academic level being impaired. Without a doubt, we welcome international students and faculty members of UTokyo caliber. Again, our concern lies with balancing the dual dilemmas of necessitating the enhancement of internationalization and remaining the top university in Japan, thus slowing the movement. It has been my belief that the key to unraveling this dilatoriness is contingent upon nurturing the exceptional students who currently study at UTokyo to get out of their comfort zones and go out into the world more often.
Needless to say, to strengthen educational and research capabilities, financial resources are indispensable. In other Asian countries, their governments invest heavily in universities. With China being a typical example, their facilities and buildings have in fact improved at a rapid pace and the quality of professors has immensely improved accordingly. I also sense that the country is structurally becoming powerful.
- In your opinion, what would be the one common thing that today’s UTokyo students possess?
Compared to my generation, I feel that they are more debonair. My impression of them is that they know so much more about society and are pragmatic and blithe. I also feel that they are intellectually deft and that once they set their goals, they are fully committed to achieving them with utmost effort.
The reason I chose the word “debonair” is that there is a difference between the situation of my generation and that of today’s students. My generation was burdened with the expectations of our communities and families, and we had to work extremely hard to impress them and be useful to society. When looking at group photos of when I entered UTokyo, all of our expressions were uptight, filled with anxieties. Conversely, I feel that students today, notwithstanding being under the same kind of pressure, are less overwhelmed, more buoyant, and quite composed, perhaps due to Japanese society settling down to a certain extent.
- The spread of COVID-19 has compelled many universities in the world, including UTokyo, to conduct classes online. Would you please tell us both the advantages and disadvantages of this?
The advantage is discovering that students can take classes at home as long as they listen and learn: They don’t have to commute all the way to the university and can listen to the lectures at any time of the day even from afar. In some ways, learning has become more flexible, if you will.
On the other hand, one of the disadvantages is that there is no sense of unity in learning as has been seen in the past in the classroom. I think the drawback here is that learning in solitude impedes learning, and while this may be advantageous in times of wanting to concentrate on things such as exam studying, learning together with others in unity is actually a vital element of education. This also ties in with learning motivation.
Having said that, this is merely an evaluation based on existing technologies and educational methods, and with future improvements, we can expect to gradually see a strong sense of learning unity, enhanced interactive online classes, and inspiring online learning practices. We can also envisage devising ways of learning without a sense of feeling loneliness, enthusiastically with peers, and by engaging in friendly competition with one another during the hard times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past, I didn’t think the professors at UTokyo were enthusiastic about expanding online classes. There was a sense that despite a large number of students, it was still crucial to have face-to-face lectures as it would be difficult to grasp the students’ learning reactions and to sufficiently convey the teaching content should they be conducted online. In the post-COVID-19 world, from a perspective of enhancing quantity and quality of learning, it will be essential to consider how to combine both the advantages through online lessons and deepening of our learning where we meet in real classes through face-to-face learning.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has shed a light on the inadequacy of Japan’s technological digitization, prodding the newly established Digital Agency, under the Suga administration, to declare it as one of its main policies. When considering the ultimate digital transformation of education in Japan, wouldn’t it be strategic for examinations to go paperless? Do you think that examinations at UTokyo will ever go paperless?
As pointed out above, we need to consider this from various perspectives. In short, I do not think exams would immediately go paperless. Here in Japan, there has traditionally been a strong belief in the fairness of the paper system. Fairness is ensured by the transparency of everyone taking the same test at the exact same time and place. I am sure that as technology progresses, our perceptions will change accordingly, but for the time being, it is realistic to assume that online testing is merely an emergency measure and that the testing system will be restored to its original form. Moreover, I believe that it would be difficult to change the current system when fairness and justice are visibly carried out under concurrent test-taking for all.
Assuming that we were to eliminate paper tests in university entrance exams, we would still need to fairly assess the abilities of high school students in some way. In addition, there still remain issues of maintaining a sense of fairness and measuring expressive and logical abilities represented by the written assessment. As long as the perception of placing importance on such evaluations remains, I really do not think that UTokyo would take the initiative in abolishing paper tests.
- After visiting many universities around the world during your time as the president of UTokyo, what did you feel were the biggest differences with universities in Japan? Furthermore, what were your thoughts on the higher education system abroad?
One thing I saw was a big difference in the time put into studying. In particular, I get the impression that students at top universities overseas study extremely diligently. The system of students utilizing their basic abilities from what they have learned and then further deepening their knowledge through discussions is clearly embedded. I truly think that we need to establish a structure in Japan where the quality of discussions in the classroom is enhanced by an increased amount of independent study.
Again, to change the current situation of universities in Japan, we need to be aware of how we approach our learning. Learning in high schools is very different from how it is done in universities: University is a place to further develop one’s expressive and logical abilities and enhance one’s inquisitiveness and creativity. Hence, rather than aiming for a perfect score on a written exam, it is a place to provide and support students with various opportunities for trial-and-error.
The other thing I noticed is that it seems universities abroad have considerable latitude – universities in Asia, such as China and Thailand are dynamic in spirit. Universities in Japan are rather peaceful, contributing to a subtle restlessness as to whether this is the right way to go. I am particularly concerned that students are half-hearted when it comes to taking the plunge and trying to be vivacious. It is unclear to me what the reason for this is, but perhaps it is influenced by the current state and structure of Japanese culture and society. This is exemplified by the negative image of people switching jobs, although this has changed a lot recently in Japan. The stigma of not being able to find a job where one can dedicate oneself for the rest of one’s life may also have contributed to one’s lack of confidence.
- Your book titled, “Why The University of Tokyo Pursued Fall Admission” (「東大はなぜ秋入学を目指したか」、Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc.)” was published last September. What is the most important message you want to send out to the world?
I would have to say to not take for granted the things you now have, right in front of you. Don’t assume that April admission will always be an option as well. There are many possibilities and options in any society for all of us. I believe it is important to explore other societies and the world with an open mind. Above all, again, we should not take for granted and assume that the current state of society will always remain the same, including ourselves, so as to attain greater growth.
- Who do you respect as a global leader?
As I give some thought to this, it would have to be the late Mrs. Sadako Ogata. I had the opportunity to talk with her on some occasions and I can truly say that she was an amazing individual. Mrs. Ogata was rational and broad-minded – in all likelihood due to her experience as a university professor – whilst also having had a grip on reality and really knowing the world well; not only did she clearly express her own opinions, but she also had the ability to accept the opinions and ideas of others. Remarkably, her ability to listen to others was exceptional, as any opinion, no matter how trivial, was accepted, and she would encourage others to flourish and even be inspired by them. Mrs. Ogata really put this to practice.
Another attribute of Mrs. Ogata’s was that she was a person of action; someone who planned meticulously for things that needed to be executed. On the contrary, she also had the resilience to accept very different or unique things and turn them into her own strengths. That is something that I would like to possess!
- Please give a message to the younger generation who aspire to become future global leaders.
The world is brimming with infinite diversity. I urge you to incorporate different ways of life, values, and thinking that you may have never known before into your own life. We as human beings are naturally born full of possibilities, but we somehow end up living our lives pegged down to a limited number of them. But, by exploring around on a global scale, you can discover new possibilities and perhaps gain the opportunities to realize how much influence you may have on others and what interests you may cultivate. I believe the essence of being globally active is that by experiencing and accepting diversity first-hand, you can unearth the innate power, perception, and abilities veiled inside you.
Approximately 10 years ago, “The Idea of The University of Tokyo’s (UTokyo) Fall Admission” shook the nation (Japan) by surprise. In this book, Dr. Hamada, who was a party to the undertaking, sums up for the first time his five-year crusade, explaining why he came up with fall admission, what he thought were drawbacks of UTokyo, and what actually went wrong. It is the one and only scripture for contemplating what fall (September) admission would be like for the future. Grab your copy today!