Principal's Blog

Our Children, Our Planet, Our Responsibility
Brian Christian

Parents, teachers, policy-makers – we all have an obligation to listen to the impassioned, angry voices of young people who fear that the future they deserve is being stolen from them.

I promised myself I was going to do everything I could do to make a difference…

Greta Thunberg


Earlier this month, the Fridays for Future movement won Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2019. Previous winners include Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Ai Weiwei and Colin Kaepernick.

The movement’s founder is Greta Thunberg, a straight-talking, steely-eyed teenager from Sweden. Infuriated by the complacency of politicians and world leaders, in August 2018 she determined to miss school every Friday in order to protest outside the Swedish parliament until it took serious steps to tackle climate change. Her efforts to raise awareness of the climate crisis quickly went global. On the most recent international day of action, more than a million young people from around the world participated in school strikes. Headline-grabbing demonstrations took place in over one hundred countries, including Australia, Brazil, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, United Kingdom, Germany, the Philippines and Uganda. And yes - here in Japan too.

Announcing the 2019 award, Kumai Nadoo, the Secretary-General of Amnesty International and himself a one-time teenage activist in apartheid-era South Africa, offered vehement support:

Young people are often told they are the leaders of tomorrow. I am so glad that Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future activists ignored that message. If they wait until tomorrow, there will be no future for any of us. They have proved that they are already leaders, and now it is time for adults to follow their lead

Having spent more than forty years as a teacher and educator, his words struck home. I recognised that I had been as guilty as any of my professional peers in resorting to well-meant platitudes to express my hopes for the next generation. In the light of my own generation’s failure to take ownership of the stewardship of our planet, that leaders of tomorrow cliché suddenly seemed to suggest an abdication of responsibility. No wonder so many young people are angry. Although we keep telling them that they are the future, we seem deaf to their accusations of wilful complacency. Almost a century has elapsed since rising global temperatures were first identified as a potential threat; since then we have made no real adjustment to our production or consumption of energy to account for it. This is not to say that it cannot be done. As David Wallace-Wells asserts in The Uninhabitable Earth:

If the average American were confined by the carbon footprint of her European counterpart, US carbon emissions would fall by more than half. If the world’s richest 10 percent were limited to that same footprint, global emissions would fall by a third.

Tomorrow is too late. The time has come for us to listen to our children and to act upon what we are hearing. For their sake, for their children’s sake, and for the sake of our planet.

This is the first in a series of three short pieces about young people and their concerns about the environment, and about our responsibilities as parents and educators.


University in Australia
Brian Christian

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am always happy to include posts from ‘Guest Bloggers’. This blog is the third in a series of blogs on the topic of higher education, from Ms. Yamada, our Director of External Relations.

Australia’s Amazing Eight

This year, Australia is set to overtake the UK as the world’s #2 destination for international students, and at BST we have seen this trend reflected in a marked surge of interest in  Australia's Group of Eight universities. Last year, we were proud to send students to Monash, Melbourne and ANU.

Although studying in Australia is more expensive than continental Europe, Hong Kong or Japan, its three-year programmes make it cheaper than the US and the availability of scholarships for able international students make it an attractive alternative to the UK.

Melbourne is  famed for it excellent quality of life and world class sports, food and culture.

Why are Australian universities attracting so many international students?

The surge in the popularity of Australian universities seems to be due to a combination of factors: a reputation for academic rigour; outstanding employment prospects;  a friendly post-degree visa programme; a stunningly straightforward application process, and, last but not least, a quality of life which has been ranked consistently as the best in the world.

Research Intensive & Rigorous

Australia's universities are highly regarded around the world and Australia boasts 7 out of the global top 100 universities, which, given the country's modest population, is quite remarkable. The academic programmes are quite reassuringly familiar if you're coming from the UK: degrees take three years and students specialise early on, choosing their field before they embark on their studies.

The 'Group of Eight' comprise Australia’s most competitive and research-intensive universities

Unlike the UK, however, once you start, you can follow your interests within that field as they emerge, and create a unique combination of modules to make up your degree. A good example of this is Melbourne’s BSc in Science. You start with your broader subject area - science - but then you build the modules according to your own needs. You can then graduate with a major in Marine Biology, Neuroscience, Chemical Engineering or Astrophysics: but crucially, you don’t have to decide that before you arrive on campus.

As well as the 'double major' or 'joint honours' degree (as we say in the UK) Australia also offers another option, as demanding as it is unique: the double degree. Although this will add a year or two to your course of study, you will graduate with two full degrees, often in complementary, but nevertheless distinct subject areas. Not for the faint-hearted, but impressive on a CV.

Loredana Philips (Wollongong University), who works in BST’s Communications Department choose a double degree (Commerce and Media and Communications) so that she could ‘maximise flexibility and opportunities at university’. Although her double degree took four and a half years, instead of the standard three, she highly recommends the route, as ‘it certainly gives your CV a broader appeal’. 

Why are Australian Graduates so Employable?

Sydney and Melbourne rank #5 and #6 respectively for graduate employability, and I asked Anne-Marie Leo from The University of Sydney why she thought a degree from Sydney was so exceptionally attractive to employers around the world. Her answer chimed with what our students have said:  ‘We are positioned as a major trade hub in Asia and all large companies have a base here. This reflects how all our programs are taught with an international perspective. This, in turn, means students are globally-minded and adaptable, which I think is attractive to multinational organisations’.

The various great internship programmes that the Groups of Eight universities run enhance this. Sydney has a wide range of different internship programmes for students in different faculties, like the ArtSS Career Ready Programme for Humanities students. Ms Leo added:
‘Our rankings mean that employers know our graduates will be excellent; once a company has one of our grads they tend to employ more, so it's a snowball effect’.

The University of Sydney beats both Oxford and Cambridge for graduate employability scores

Visas for Australian University Graduates

Australia continues to have a high demand for skilled foreign workers and if you have studied at, and particularly if you have graduated from, an Australian university then you have a special work visa category. Even before you’ve found a job, you can get a 485 ‘Skilled graduate Visa’ which allows you to live in Australia while you find one. Getting your student visa is easier too, as BST students have a few months after their results arrive in August before enrolling at university in February. Once your results arrive you can get your certificate of enrollment which, coupled with your passport, is the most important paperwork you need. An important note is that at the moment, students from BST (since we’re in Japan) are still required to provide IELTS or TOEFL even if they’ve done IGCSEs or even an A Level in English.

The Application Process

There are a number of attractive aspects to the Australian application process, but first and foremost must be its wonderfully straightforward nature, particularly for international students. In a nutshell, each course has a published three grade threshold, and if you achieve those grades, you’re in. Simple as that. A Level grades of AAB will get you into Biomedicine at Melbourne; ABB will get you into Design Computing at Sydney. All these criteria are published on their respective websites, and no personal statements or references are needed. The process works like this:

  1. Apply once you have your predicted grades, usually this would be in Term 2 of Year 13. At the moment BST students (since it’s a non-English speaking country) will eventually need to have TOEFL/IELTS to get the final, official offer, but initially you don’t need this. Patricia Migallos, who’s the manager of Offshore Recruitment at Melbourne assures me that ‘the policy is under review’, so watch this space for an even simpler process in the near future. After applying you’ll receive a conditional offer in 4-6 weeks if your predictions meet the published requirements.
  2. Receive your final results in August and notify your university. At this point your offer will become firm and final within around a week, and you’ll receive your CoE (Certificate of Enrollment) so you can start your visa process. The only exceptions to this are subjects which require interviews, like Medicine, or portfolios, like Art.
  3. Start university in February!

Adelaide consistently ranks in the top ten cities in the world for quality of life.

The Most ‘Livable’ Cities in the World?

Australia boasts more than 10,000 pristine beaches where surfing, snorkeling, diving and all sorts of water sports bekon. There are fabulous mountain ranges, like the Blue Mountains, near Sydney, and a vast number of truly breathtaking national parks. The incredible and unique zoology and marine biology are of great interest, even if you’re not studying these subjects at university (Australia is, naturally, one of the best places in the world to study Marine and Ocean Science).

Amazing food is one of Australia’s big draws, and although it doesn’t yet have a Michelin guide, many gourmets argue that it should. Coffee is, I’m reliably informed, a religious experience in Melbourne; but international students are often drawn not to the macchiato, but to the traditional meat pies.

Sport is another factor which adds to the quality of life in Australia, and university campuses have really outstanding sporting facilities, which is another pull factor for international students. BST alumna, Evie, who’s studying Design at Melbourne was bowled over by the number of sports and clubs available on campus, ‘there’s everything from Quidditch teams to science societies and all these activities make the university incredibly social’.

The weather, the safety, the friendliness and openness of Australians, as well as a notably young and diverse population make Australia a great place to live during your studies and beyond. And of course, for students with a base in Japan, the one-hour times difference makes it that little bit easier to keep in touch!

Further Reading & Contacts

Students and their families at BST can log into their unifrog accounts to find a comprehensive library of information on applying to study in Australia and enjoying your time there.

Specialist International Admissions staff at Group of Eight universities

Anne-Marie Leo at The University of Sydney
Patricia Migallos at The University of Melbourne
Lantian Li at Australian National University
Jack Johnson at Monash
Anthony Craig at The University of Queensland
Frankie Yau at The University of New South Wales
Marian Moore at The University of Western Australia
Kristina Qiu at The University of Adelaide


Thinking Through Your A Level Options…
Brian Christian

Choosing A-levels should be relatively straightforward. In an ideal world, students would simply pick the subjects they most enjoy and focus on the areas where their abilities lie.

However, as thousands of Year 11 students are finding as they make their selections around about now, the reality is not so clear-cut. On top of their own interests and aptitudes, they also have to take into consideration two other key factors: are they more likely to get a higher grade in certain ‘easier’ subjects, and will university admissions departments view particular combinations more favourably? In short, are some A-levels better than others?

These questions are entirely relevant to our own students in Year 11 here at BST as they contemplate their options for next year. For many of them the choice will be quite an easy one, and they will indeed opt for the subjects they most enjoy and to which their abilities are most suited; but there will be those who are uncertain and perhaps more than a few who feel quite daunted by the whole process.

Let me begin by confronting the key question: are some A Levels better than others? The answer is, of course, a resounding Yes… and an equally loud No! If you want to read Medicine or indeed any medically-related degree, then Chemistry is a better subject than History, and Biology is probably better than Art. In fact, Chemistry is pretty much compulsory for admission to medical courses all over the world. On the other hand, 64% of all UK Architecture students have an A Level in Art and 38% of all Law students studied A Level History. If you have clear idea of what you want to study at university, a little bit of research will quickly tell you which A Level subjects will be most helpful to you. A good starting point might be this comprehensive guide to post-16 choices, The Subject Matters, published last November by Cambridge University.

But perhaps better simply means more difficult? Most studies seem to suggest that Further Mathematics is one of the most challenging A Levels - yet 58% of all FM entries were awarded an A* or A grade in 2018, a significantly better percentage success rate than entrants in almost any other subject. Does this mean that everyone should opt for it? Of course not; the point is that the students who choose to take the subject in the first place tend to be strong mathematicians: they enjoy the subject, they know what it involves, they like the challenge – they do well.

Contrast this with Psychology; a perfectly good option but one with demands that are often less well understood by those who choose to take it. Last year, just 4.5% of entries were awarded an A* and only 13.2% achieved an A, results not too dissimilar from our own here at BST. This is not because Psychology is more difficult than Further Maths, nor does it mean that either is a better subject; it simply suggests that too many students who opt for a subject that is largely unknown to them fail to see that it does not suit their particular aptitudes. Do your homework – know your subject and know yourself!

Then another factor enters the equation: whether all subjects are given equal weight by universities. To try to bring some transparency to the system, in 2011 the Russell Group of 24 leading UK universities published its first list of what it called facilitating subjects - those that should provide a good preparation for a wide range of degree courses. The subjects singled out then were Maths and Further Maths, the Sciences, Languages, English Literature, Geography and History.

The latest (sixth) edition of the group’s Informed Choices document, offering up-to-date advice on choosing strong A Level combinations may be found here.

Students can still win a place at UK Russell Group universities if they choose other subjects, but it can be a good idea to take at least one from the list and, as the document clearly states: If you don’t know what you want to study at university then it’s a good rule of thumb that taking two facilitating subjects will keep a wide range of degree courses open to you.

Making decisions often involves closing doors – even if you are not necessarily locking them and throwing away the key. The more you limit the range of your studies, the fewer the pathways you can easily follow. Given its focus on just three or four subjects, the A level system asks you to specialise at a relatively early age so for most sixteen year-olds it makes sense to consider ways of keeping as many doors open as possible, especially those of you who are not at all sure of your next step. The best way of doing this is, of course, to achieve top grades; but, like all investors in a competitive market, you need to balance your portfolio. Maths, a Science, a Language or an essay-based subject such as History might seem the safe all-rounder’s bet; but this is only true if you are the sort of student who can perform equally well in all of these very different areas of study. Two A* grades and one or two D grades hardly represents a balanced return.

Most of us do best when we play to our strengths, when we enjoy what we are doing and when we are excited by the challenge. Do all the research, listen to advice, make informed intelligent decisions – and then it’s up to you, and only you, to ensure they become the right decisions. The best A Levels are the ones that suit you and match your ambitions.

*BST graduates are now studying at a range of top universities around the world; a full list is included in our Secondary School Profile.


Valentine’s Day with a Japanese Twist – The Concept of Giri
Brian Christian


If, like me you’re only a man then, again like me, there will probably have been at least one year in your life when you have found yourself in the Valentine’s Day dog-house.

‘You forgot? Again?’

However, as is so often the case here in Japan, things are a little different. February 14th is the day when Japanese women give chocolate to the men in their lives.

Be careful, though. The gift of a luxury chocolate bar is not always intended as a declaration of undying love. Most Valentine’s Day presents are likely to be giri choko, or obligation chocolates, meant as an expression of appreciation or respect towards a fellow worker, or just as a friendly thank you. They are definitely not to be confused with honmei (true-feeling) choko!

In recent years, it is fair to say, the custom has generated no little controversy. Some have argued – quite rightly - that the idea of obliging women to give gifts to male colleagues has no place in the modern workplace and that it is symptomatic of attitudes towards gender that are now well past their sell-by date. Others suggest that it is a faux ‘tradition’ invented and perpetuated by chocolate manufacturers to maintain their profits and that the sense of obligation threatens to drain the day of its romance.

Despite these valid concerns, I have some sympathy with the thinking behind the notion of giri. It seems to me that in today’s society we are all too quick to recognise our rights and often much slower to accept our obligations. It was my grandmother who drummed into me the importance of writing thank you letters and it’s a lesson I hope I have passed on to my own children. Those two simple words can mean a great deal, but going beyond merely saying or writing them, and actually doing something to show your gratitude can mean so much more.

I recall an occasion when one of our guest speakers here at BST, a successful and highly regarded CEO, was asked to give the best piece of advice she could think of to her teenage audience. Her instant response was memorable: Remember to say thank you – say it often and make sure that you mean it. Her sincerity was obvious and her advice hit home. She was advocating the idea that genuine thoughtfulness is a quality that commands the respect of others and, as such, is central to good leadership. I think I probably owe her a box of giri choko!

Perhaps I should finish by letting my fellow men know that you’re not entirely off the hook. You need to put a note in your diaries that you have an obligation to return the compliment in exactly a month’s time. March 14th is White Day – with their typically pragmatic outlook, Japanese women clearly believe that we mere men are in need of a reminder and a few weeks’ notice. Apparently the most popular gifts we choose to give the ladies in our lives on White Day are a necklace, a ring, a handkerchief, some flowers or a cuddly toy. In my book, you’re a brave man if you opt for the handkerchief!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hard to say ‘Sayonara’...
Brian Christian

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am always happy to include posts from ‘Guest Bloggers’. This blog is the second in a series of blogs on the topic of higher education, from Ms. Yamada, our Director of External Relations.

Hard to say ‘Sayonara’...

Tokyo’s a hard city to leave. Perhaps this is why colleagues at international schools here are all noticing a pattern: more and more students are deciding to stay, not only in Tokyo itself, but also more broadly, in Japan, in order to attend university.

No-one in the BST community will be surprised to see that this amazing city ranks #2  in the QS Best Student Cities ranking, but fewer might be aware of the sea change going on in Japanese, and indeed, Asian universities. With Singapore, Hong Kong and notably, Chinese universities producing outstanding international research and joining the list of the global top-twenty five, the centre of gravity of the higher educational world is shifting east, and faster than we might have anticipated.

This has been reflected in the applications and ultimate destinations of BST students. They are, with their parents, carefully weighing the varying potential returns on their higher education investments and considering the relative value of the networks that they’ll be able to build. There’s no doubt that perceived ‘instability’ or at least economic and political unpredictability in the UK and US have had an impact here, with international students numbers falling in both these countries.

It’s becoming more difficult for international students to get visas to study in these countries and also to stay on and work after their degrees have finished (although European and Canadian universities offer more welcoming systems) which are key factors for some students. Students and their parents often feel that they would like to add employment experience abroad to their CVs, as well as a prestigious degree, and so if that is going to be difficult in the UK or US, they rethink. These factors combine, no doubt, to fuel the trend toward Asian and Japanese universities, but there’s more to it than that.

Why Japan? Why now?

Japan’s universities are very good value, but now they offer a better range of courses than ever before. Part of the reason for the increases in international students in Japan was the government sponsored G30 Programme, which aimed to get 300,000 international students in Japan by 2020 (and they're nearly there). The G30 Programme provided a bit of momentum and led to a significant expansion of the range of subjects which could be studied at degree level.

Ten years ago, it was harder to study specific fields of Engineering, Economics or Humanities, but now there are some great, specialised programmes and more are being added. So, for example, you can now study Applied Marine Biology at Tohoku University or Fundamental and Applied Physics at Nagoya or Economics at Keio’s PEARL Programme in Economics. The Ministry of Education have published a handy list of all the courses that are currently taught in English at Japanese universities, and although it’s still quite postgraduate ‘heavy’, there is a pretty good range of undergraduate degrees to choose from.

Keio’s Mita Campus hosts their competitive PEARL Programme in Economics.

For those looking for choice and flexibility, Robert Stern, an experienced academic and college counselor (who supports students at BST every Wednesday) often recommends International Christian University (ICU), in Mitaka, Western Tokyo. ICU boasts a full range of 31 traditional and inter-departmental majors including Natural Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences. The system is modeled on private US Liberal Arts colleges like Amherst and Swarthmore and enables students to study a wide range of disciplines before selecting their major at the beginning of their third year. A student might take courses in Chemistry, Linguistics and History before choosing to major in International Relations.

National Universities

Many of the national universities of Japan, such as Tokyo, Osaka and Tohoku are all ranked in the top one hundred internationally, and Nagoya, which probably has the best range of undergraduate degrees in English, has remarkably been the academic home to six of the thirteen Japanese Nobel Prize-winners since 2000. As well as this, it has a lively and well-established international student population (15% of total student numbers). Hokkaido University offers highly regarded Japanese Studies and Integrated Science degrees as well as a major change of scene for Tokyo-ites.

Nagoya University: six Nobel Prize winners since 2000

Tsukuba is another of these national universities and a close partner of BST, sharing expertise in Sports Science with us and offering our students the chance to have a unique insight into the training programme followed by Olympic athletes. Tsukuba is also quite unique in that it offers a very good undergraduate programme in medical science, and is highly regarded for its life sciences and medicine courses in general.

Another advantage with Tsukuba is the genuinely diverse nature of its international intake. Whereas with most universities in Japan, Asian students dominate international admissions, Tsukuba tries hard to balance British and more broadly European (and US students) with those from neighbouring Asian countries, resulting an enviable diversity. Dr Louis Irving, an Assistant Professor in Plant Science, told me he’s pleased to see that each year they’re attracting more students from California, after forging links with a few high schools there.

One of the remarkable things about national universities is the low cost: a four year degree costs around $20,000 (USD) in total tuition fees and generous scholarships are often available. When you consider that for Engineering and Technology, Tokyo is ranked 8th in the world, sharing the spot with The University of Oxford, where a similar degree will cost around $150,000 (USD) in tuition, it’s easy to see why many of our high-flying students are considering UTokyo, as it’s known.

Tokyo is not alone in this; Nagoya and other national universities offer some great scholarships, which usually cover at least tuition fees and accommodation costs. But it’s not just the cost that is attracting higher numbers of students to national universities, they also often have larger, more diverse international students bodies, as we’ve seen.  It’s a good idea to ask about this when you visit campuses, as some English-taught courses really do have small intakes, and some students might find the tiny cohorts a bit limited, and limiting. If you speak or are studying Japanese, of course, you should be able to join the fray of the main student body, but still: asking about the breakdown of the students body will give you an important picture.

Private Universities

In 2009 when the G30 Programme started, it was many of the private universities, like Keio, which already had sizable international intake and a stated global ambition that took the helm. The private universities cost more, (usually around $10,000 USD per year) and so competition for places is commensurately lower, but at the top end, still significant.

Personally, I came to Tokyo in 2001 to do research for my MA, generously supported by Keio as part of their exchange programme with SOAS in London. Keio’s Japanese Language Programme (which I took) is justly famous for being one of the best, and there was great support and opportunities available to international students, who felt  welcome on campus.

Waseda has a great range of majors too, more varied than Keio, which focuses on a few key areas around Economics, Environmental Science and Business. By contrast, Waseda is known in Japan for its excellence in the Humanities and Social Sciences, exemplified by its very well-regarded SILS Course; but it also offers degrees in Science and Engineering, including Computer Science.

Beyond these two leading Tokyo institutions (which like to model themselves on Oxbridge, right down to the rugby and rowing), there are some great private universities offering well-established courses in English. Kyoto’s Doshisha has admitted several BST alumni to their excellent ILA Course, and Meiji, Hosei, Ritsumeikan and Sophia are all attracting more applicants each year.

ICU, as mentioned above, has the greatest choice of courses and the the most flexible structure, plus a delightfully leafy campus in Mitaka, (and an exceedingly good canteen, it must be said!). The other nice point about ICU is that all students are integrated and all have to study in both English and Japanese which creates a really international experience for all its students.

ICU’s canteen on its leafy campus where it offers 31 majors.

2020 and Beyond?

Japanese universities aren’t likely to represent more than around 20% of our alumni destinations in the next decade or so, but it’s nice to see that students who are looking for a great value and well-respected degree closer to ‘home’, are being accepted onto increasingly competitive courses, including those at Tokyo and Nagoya.

Often, these students still intend to study in Europe or the US, but might plan to do postgraduate study there (when scholarships are more likely), or go abroad as part of an exchange with their Japanese university. You can study at Cambridge via Nagoya; Dartmouth via Waseda or UBC via Tsukuba.

As China’s universities vault up the league tables, will this mean that Japanese universities will bask in the broader East Asian research glow? Will regional pressures of competition finally force Japanese universities to become predominantly anglophone? Will Increasingly international student populations lead to changes in recruitment and employment at Japanese companies?

The falling population in Japan (The Financial Times have predicted a fall of 13 million workers in the next 20 years) certainly could mean that Japan Inc. will be particularly welcoming to skilled, multilingual, multicultural young people with a global outlook.

So will everywhere else, come to think of it.

Important Points for applying to Japanese Universities

●     Get organised: there is no central search site (although the Japanese government has produced this very handy list) so you need to be thorough and careful in your research - application processes are complicated and still, in some cases, paper-based, so you’ll need patience to get the golden goose!

●     Be aware that if you are admitted, you may be asked to pay quite a hefty fee, which can be equivalent to a whole semester’s tuition. For this reason, it is a good idea to apply to all your target universities within the same period. Japanese universities often have two or three different windows for applications, but unless all your answers arrive at (roughly) the same time, you’ll have to decide whether to commit to Keio, for example, before you have received a reply from Waseda.

●     Many universities require interviews and, while some like Doshisha can conduct these through Skype, most are still face-to-face interviews. Prepare thoroughly: they are often conducted by a panel of academics and will ask you questions about your proposed field of study.

●     There are so many generous scholarships available that preparing your scholarship applications needs to be a separate strand of your preparation. Start with The Mext Scholarship page.

●     Just as important with Japanese universities is the golden rule for all applicants: don’t be led into applying because of a name or a particular rank: visit the university, talk to students and staff and ask yourself if it will suit you.