Globalization of academic research is a reality in the contemporary world. National boundaries are getting obliterated because of the Internet and instant electronic communication. In fact, in the last few years, there is an increasing collaboration among researchers in science, humanities, and the arts from around the world to produce results that have a global impact. In statistical terms, a report by the National Science Foundation confirms that 6,477 new international research alliances were formed in the 1990s, and this is only a fraction of the international research alliances in the 2000s.
This shows that the combined forces of globalization of academic research and and internationalization are transforming research worldwide. Research in Japan, which has had an isolated past, is also reinventing itself since the 1990s. Not surprisingly, Japan is the world’s second highest R&D spender behind the U.S. and contributes 13% of the total expenditure on R&D worldwide. This has largely been possible because of the rapid strides of industrialization in Japan.
However, the talent pool that contributes to industrialization comes from Japan’s academic institutions. Therefore, in the last few decades, there has been a conscious effort to facilitate globalization of academic research in Japan.
Globalization of Academic Research in Japan: Problems and Way Forward
Two factors that have hindered globalization of academic research in Japan are the language barrier and the lack of alignment of the academic year in Japan with the international calendar. However, both these impediments are being tackled to make Japan a truly global destination for research. Several universities have already introduced classes in English for undergraduate courses. For instance, The University of Tokyo (Todai) has launched its new all-English undergraduate programs. Further, there are more than 50 graduate schools where students can enroll for lessons conducted in English.
The mismatch in the academic year in Japan with the global academic calendar is also under scrutiny for change, although it might take some time coming because it will entail a complete overhaul of Japan’s education system. However, Todai has recently announced a four-semester plan, which is likely to start in March 2015. This will make it easier for foreign students to study at Todai from the beginning of the second term in September, and for Japanese students to utilize the summer break of June-August to study overseas. With a similar objective of attracting overseas researchers, Waseda University has also introduced four “quarter terms” as an alternative to the semester system.
Japan’s plan for international student exchange, known as the “300,000 International Students Plan,” was launched in 2008 and aims to achieve the targeted number international students by 2020. Another significant initiative toward globalization of research in Japan was the “Global 30” Project, launched by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology in 2009. The objective of this program was to establish 30 core universities for internationalization. This initiative has successfully broken down the language barrier, and a range of courses in many research fields are being offered in English at the universities.
The university is undoubtedly the cradle for pioneering research in the future. Therefore, it is important to open up Japan’s research institutions to international research talent, and to simultaneously send Japanese researchers for exposure in other countries. Already, researchers from universities and research institutes in Japan are travelling to China, Vietnam, Russia, Hungary, Germany, France and many other countries, with reciprocal visits from those countries.
The Future of Globalization of Academic Research in Japan
These are the first steps in Japan toward an international mix of researchers, which have gathered momentum after the turn of the millennium and will yield tangible results in the next few decades. Assimilation of international researchers in higher education, backed by favorable government policies and funding for research projects, will go a long way toward globalization of research in Japan, and will hopefully take research in Japan even higher on the global stage.