‘Let Us Take Leave of Absence From School -3: ‘Todai Students Won’t Go Abroad to Study’


Starting from April, I have written two columns in a row stressing the importance of ‘Taking Leave of Absence From School’(Ref.1), and how expectation has changed for higher education that is responsible for nurturing future human assets to address the issues of the new global age.

For example, if you wanted to spread your business to the world it would not be easy even to approach to the right place if you do not have personal contacts especially in the emerging new economic sphere of new developing countries.

It is during their high school or university years when youth cultivate their personal contacts.  ‘Boarding schools’ or undergraduate years in England and the U.S. are also included in this time range.  Since Graduate University career are the places where people in the similar field gather and compete, horizontal connections are weaker than undergraduate schools but I understand that number of Japanese students going overseas for graduate school education are also decreasing in recent years…

In the coming global age, ‘horizontal connections’ will expand to become world wide networks that are beyond fields or country borders.  Because of this recognition, many leading universities abroad are trying to increase the number of undergraduate students going abroad for study or experience, as well as encouraging mutual exchange to educate the youth of the world, the future leaders.

The globalization of the world is speeding up, and therefore human networks of next generation, future partners, structured upon ‘personal credit/trust’ ‘beyond profession or organization’ will naturally become a very valuable asset for each and every youth and each nation.
Growth in global world depends on the activities of enterprises that recognize its strengths and weaknesses, applying ‘customer comes first’ policy beyond borders.  Especially in a hierarchical society like Japan where ‘Miuchi Shakai (organization where people have a strong sense of belonging)’of men based on systems such as ‘single track career’, ‘lifetime employment’, or ‘seniority based promotion’, it would be difficult for anyone to express different views, and therefore many things do not run smoothly in times of change or crisis as today’s world  This exactly is the weakness that is found throughout many Japanese mega companies or organizations.  In addition, in most cases workers, particulary executives levels. are all Japanese (and mostly male) and this makes the problem even worse.  People may talk about diversity or difference, but the actual status quo is what I have described above.

Just recently I have written about ‘Toyota Problems; Are They Unique to Toyota?’ where I pointed out these same elements of weakness as possible backgrounds.

By the way, while I assume that the University of Tokyo (called as ‘Todai’), as the top university of Japan, is expected to play a role as the driving force for change, Ms Atsuko Tsuji, an editorial writer of the Asahi Shinbun whose comments are always right at the point, posted a column sharing this same view (full text, summary) with me  on April 19th, a week after the welcoming ceremony of the newcomers of the University of Tokyo.

It goes like this.

“●Todai Students Won’t Go Abroad for Study ? ‘Window’ From Editorial Writers’ Office – <Atsuko Tsuji>

●‘Japanese youth do not seek to go abroad’.  People said so for many years.  This tendency seems especially true for the students at the University of Tokyo.

●According to the data of Todai, the proportion of students who have experienced studying abroad is 4.6% in science major and 4.1% in humanities major.  Other universities’ average, on the other hand, is 8.1% and 14% respectively, the difference is more prominent in humanities majors.

●President Junichi Hamada commented that ‘It is partly because the students are too packed with their courses’, but it is also true that more than 70% of them admit that they do not have ‘ability to communicate in foreign languages’.  This reality must be quite a headache for Todai that lists ‘Internationalization’ as one of their top priorities.

●Mr. Benjamin Tobacman studied at Todai for one and a half year after graduating Harvard University.  He also points out that ‘More Todai students should go abroad for study’ but reason for his saying so is not just numbers.

●Tobacman published a book ‘Culture Shock; Harvard vs Todai’ (In Japanese.  Original title; Culture Shock; Harvard VS Todai.  Published by Daigaku Kyouiku Shuppan) in which he compares the education of these two universities based on his own experience.  He says that at Harvard, professors teach students to think by themselves by asking them questions, but at Todai, professors teach students by giving them answers.  This is no way to nurture students that are capable of thinking by themselves.

●Todai, of course, have professors who welcome questions from the students but most of them know the value of discussions between professors and students on equal basis because they themselves have studied abroad.  If more Todai students go to universities abroad, come back to Todai and teach, then students will be given more chances to think by themselves and therefore have higher motivation for studying.

● Perhaps this problem is not just about students or Todai.”

I hear that President Hamada is keen in promoting international exchange between undergraduate students.  Let’s expect Action!

Some time ago, I invited Mr. Tobacman to see me at my office just after he has published his book.  He told me that he was planning to go to China.  I wonder where he is now-still in China?