Japanese education's 'foreign problem'

Japanese education's 'foreign problem'
Officials of the Oita prefectural government try to gather information after a strong earthquake hit the prefecture early Monday.
PHOTO: The Japan News/ANN

Japan has been actively pursuing internationalization of its higher education, and recruiting foreign students has been a major part of this endeavour. In 1983, Japan announced its plan to recruit 100,000 foreign students by the year 2000, and in 2008 instituted a plan to recruit 300,000 foreign students by 2020. Subsequent government-led projects such as the Global 30 (2009-2014) and the Top Global University (2014-2023) projects have also stipulated international student recruitment as a major requirement.

As a result, the number of foreign students in Japanese universities has increased significantly from 10,428 in 1983 to 139,185 in 2014. Likewise, foreign faculty numbers have grown from just 418 (0.8 per cent of total faculty) in 1994 to 6,034 (6.8 per cent) in 2014. Although the figures are still relatively low compared with those in Europe and North America, they bring a potentially powerful force for social change to a country marked by high ethnic homogeneity.

In particular, the influx of foreign students and faculty to Japanese universities creates more culturally diverse campuses, often cited as a desirable result of and a key motive for pursuing internationalization. In the US and Europe, such changes have led to significant discursive and programmatic efforts to create a culture of respect for diversity and inclusion. For example, Europe has, despite its critics, consistently articulated the value of "interculturality," diversity, and respect for cultural differences as a broader discourse for European higher education.

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