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.
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.
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.