Recent initiatives of Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) aim to increase the number of English-medium instructed courses at Japanese universities and to internationalize higher education in Japan. This paper will focus on the current policy related to the “Top Global University Project” (TGUP). Preliminarily titled the Super Global University Project, the TGUP is a large-investment initiative designed to “enhance the international compatibility and competitiveness of higher education in Japan” and to provide “prioritized support for the world-class and innovative universities that lead the internationalization of Japanese universities” (MEXT 2014). The TGUP has provided funding for 13 “Type A: Top Type” universities, which have been identified as having the potential to become top 100 ranked world universities and 24 “Type B: Global Traction Type” universities, viewed as innovative universities that can lead the internationalization of Japanese society. Policy implementation is still in its infancy; thus, this paper aims to explore the key facets of the project in order to understand the differences between TGUP and the internationalization projects that preceded it. It will also investigate how the TGUP is being operationalized by the participant universities.
The project builds on the foundations of three other project initiatives, which also aimed to provide support for internationalization of Japanese universities including the “Global 30 Project,” the “Go Global Japan Project,” and the “Re-Inventing Japan Project.” The Global 30 Project, which provided funding for 13 Japanese universities and concluded in 2014, focused on building English-medium instruction (EMI) courses and programs. The Go Global Japan Project, launched in 2012 and originally titled the “Project for Promotion of Global Human Resource Development,” but rebranded in 2014 and scheduled to conclude at the end of fiscal year 2016, provided funding for 42 universities (Type A: 11 university-wide programs and Type B: 31 faculty/school-specific programs) to develop their international education offerings and to increase the number of Japanese students studying abroad. This came just one year after the Re-Inventing Japan Project, launched in 2011, which was designed to establish collaborative relationships initially with mainly Chinese and Korean universities for the CAMPUS Asia project and North American universities and later with universities in other parts of the world. While Japan’s Education Minister has indicated that all policies are interconnected (Shimomura 2013), the Go Global Japan Project has been directly linked to TGUP, as illustrated in Fig. 1, which indicates that it operates as either the foundation for the project or as a second tier to similar globalization aims.
In light of these interconnected policies, this article will explore the main trends related to the internationalization of higher education, specifically focusing on the current large-investment project, TGUP. It specifically aims to explore the TGUP objectives in relation to the policies that have preceded it. The paper also examines the relevance of the policy to English language in higher education, including the push for EMI in Japan, which underpins the successful implementation of this project. As Galloway and Rose (2015: 230) note “internationalization of higher education remains a priority for universities worldwide, and movements are inextricably linked with increasing the role of English in the university setting”. Japan is no exception to this relationship. After the main issues surrounding English and internationalization are presented, the article will outline the methodology employed, which includes the examination of the policies themselves, in addition to an examination of English-language documents from all 37 TGUP participant universities. The results of this analysis will then be presented before the implications are discussed.
Internationalization of higher education
An often-used definition of the internationalization of higher education is “the process of integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the purpose, functions or delivery of post-secondary education” (Knight 2003: 2). Internationalization is viewed at its worst as an economic ploy to drum up student numbers and tuition and at its best as a way to positively influence universities’ global outlook. This section will provide a brief summary of internationalization of higher education, but as it is a topic which has been researched extensively in this journal, readers are encouraged to consult empirical research directly for a detailed overview of the issues noted below.
The negative view of internationalization policies has largely grown out of recent trends in native English-speaking nations to tap into the international market as a means to increase funds flowing to the university and to offset lower domestic tuition or a dwindling lack of public funds. For universities in the UK, international students account for one third of the average university’s income from tuition, even though they make up only 13% of the student body (Brown and Holloway 2008). In 2006, tuition from international students totaled five billion pounds and this is in addition to another five billion pounds that Brown and Holloway estimate to be injected into the UK economy in the form of living expenses. This commercial approach to internationalization has attracted criticism in terms of how universities view their international students. Australia, for example, has been criticized for embracing “a ‘no-frills’ highly commercial approach to international students and their welfare” (Forbes-Mewett and Nyland 2012: 191). Jenkins (2011: 927) comments “while many universities claim to be deeply international, they are, in essence, deeply national at the linguistic level. And, given that language is such a key component of academic life, their claims to internationalism ring somewhat hollow.” This national view of internationalization also extends beyond language, to cultural positioning of education, where Singh (2005: 10) notes that many native English-speaking nations view international students as “empty vessels” that need to be filled with Western-oriented knowledge.
A more positive view of internationalization relates to noted benefits that internationalization can have for a university’s reputation, research quality, teaching quality, and graduate employability (Delgado-Márquez et al. 2013). Tange and Jenson (2012) observe a difference in perception of internationalization of higher education between native English-speaking nations and many non-English speaking nations, especially those in Europe. Rather than looking at international students as a source of income, Shen (2008: 223) argues that many European universities see internationalization as a way of “attracting and keeping the best brains from around the world to help develop their own knowledge economies.” A study by Frølich (2006) on the internationalization of higher education in Norway adds support to Shen’s assertion by concluding that the moves to internationalize were driven by academic, rather than financial motivations.
Regardless of incentives to internationalize, one matter remains constant—those nations that have benefitted most from internationalization have been native English-speaking nations. Putting aside the debate surrounding the unfairness of benefits afforded to native English-speaking nations (e.g., Phillipson 2008), it is clear that English language is highly connected to internationalization. Even in Europe, those universities that have been most successful in attracting international student numbers are the same universities that are able to provide course offerings taught in English—a notion that we will return to when discussing EMI. The European model of internationalization, which places English at its core, coupled with the perceived relationship of English-delivered education resulting in an increase in student numbers, undoubtedly was a large influence on the first of Japan’s post-2000 policies that aimed to internationalize Japanese universities.
Another key facet of the TGUP is the notion of EMI, which is defined as an educational system where content is taught through English in contexts where English is not used as the primary, first, or official language. It has been noted that internationalization and EMI in the twenty-first century are inextricably intertwined, as universities turn to Englishization in order to internationalize (Kirkpatrick 2011). Thus, EMI programs have become “commonplace in many institutes of higher education where English is not the native language” (Wilkinson 2013: 3). Recent statistics show that half of the world’s international students are learning through English (Ball and Lindsay 2013), indicating the draw of English for attracting students from outside a country’s own borders. There is a lack of statistics in Japan, but Europe serves as an example of a possible future for Japan if recent trends continue. In 2007, there were 2400 programs taught in English at 400 mainland European universities and colleges, compared to just 700 such programs in 2002—a 340% increase in just 5 years (Wachter and Maiworm 2008). A report by Brenn-White and Faethe (2013) indicates a 1000% increase in the number of EMI masters’ programs in Europe over a period of just 10 years, led mainly by the disciplines of business, economics, engineering, and technology. This trend is happening worldwide (Doiz et al. 2013), and certainly we can see EMI beginning to boom in East Asian nations such as China with the expansion of “internationalization at home” programs (Galloway and Rose 2015: 232). This trend to offer an “international education” in a “domestic” context has also spread to Taiwan in its strive to remain competitive with its larger neighbor (Song and Tai 2007) and also in Japan in the face of current policies that aim to increase its universities’ global presence and to attract international students.
Internationalization of higher education in Japan
Internationalization policy-making has a long history in Japanese education, which has been well documented by a number of researchers such as Seargeant (2008), who discusses the interplay between policy and English language pedagogy. This section will provide a summary of internationalization and education in Japan.
The term kokusaika [internationalization] first appeared in the 1970s and became the go-to expression from the 1980s owed in part to the formation of Prime Minister Nakasone’s cabinet in 1982. Although there has been continued public rhetoric that kokusaika—which includes an increase in inbound mobility (e.g., see the 1983 “Project on welcoming 100,000 students from overseas”)—poses a threat to Japanese identity, national unity, and economic power (Lincicome 2005), it has remained an integral part of Japanese educational policy since this time and has had implications for English language teaching. The term gurobaruka [globalization] is also integral to the description of Japanese higher education. The term first emerged in the late 1990s, and the 2000 report “Prime Minister’s Commission on Japan’s Goals in the 21st century” was the first policy document to use this term. The term has been referred to as describing the climate in which Japan has inevitably been affected by, and needs to embrace, globalization (Iwabuchi 2005).
Also around this same time, the Educational Reform Council, which had been established in 1984, was inclined toward “internationalized Japanese education.” Their aim was twofold: one, to cultivate patriotism and Japanese identity in an effort to preserve a sense of national identity in an increasingly globalized world; and two, to improve the quality of higher education so as to compete with not only other domestic universities but also foreign universities in global rankings. In addition to the increased competition, Japanese universities also faced two major issues: one, a decreasing domestic youth population; and two, the need to introduce more EMI in the English-dominant world of academia. In 1995, the Short-term Exchange Programs in English were started. It was the education ministry’s first funding scheme for national universities to develop an EMI program. Since this time, the numbers of student exchange programs and short-term international (exchange) students has increased. Nevertheless, despite real reasons for improving English language education in Japan, it has been noted that even into the early 2000s, English language education in Japan has suffered from a lack of a coherent language policy (Yamada 2003 cited in Horiguchi et al. 2015). In 2003, the Japanese government proposed a five-year “Action Plan to Cultivate Japanese with English Abilities,” which mainly focused on reforming English education in Japanese schools (see Butler and Iino 2005 for a detailed analysis). However, from 2008, Japan saw a string of high-profile policies aimed to internationalize and Englishize higher education in Japan, which had until this point not been a major focus for internationalization policies.
In 2009, MEXT launched the Global 30 Project, which was spearheaded by Prime Minister Fukuda and which aimed to increase the number of foreign students from 124,000 to 300,000 by 2020. The Global 30 Project emerged as a means to attain the objective. After first canceling the project, it was finally enacted by the cabinet in June 2008 under the “basic policies for economic and fiscal management and structural reform” (Burgess et al. 2010). This was followed by the complementary Re-inventing Japan Project in 2011, which focuses on international partnerships, and the Go Global Japan Project in 2012, which focused on building global human resources (i.e., Japanese students with outstanding linguistic abilities, communication skills, and the ability to succeed internationally). Each of these three projects had their strengths and failures and also were subject to criticisms—a point which will be explored further in the policy analysis section of this paper. In light of these criticisms and in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku/Fukushima disaster, there was concern that the projects—particularly the Global 30 Project—would be unable to meet their mobility objectives. Even though a number of participant universities with well-established English-medium offerings were on target to meet the Global 30 objectives at the time of the conclusion of the project in 2014, MEXT refocused away from English-only programs and more toward general globalized education. The shift recognized potential strengths of EMI programs launched by the original 13 selected Global 30 universities (as well as the advances made in the Go Global Japan and Re-Inventing Japan projects), but expanded MEXT’s initiatives.
Japan’s then Education Minister, Hakubun Shimomura, who was also the minister in charge of the Education Rebuilding Implementation Council, focused on university reform and growth of global human resources. The Council finalized a set of proposals in May 2013 titled “University Education and Global Human Resource Development for the Future.” The proposals focused on the enrichment of Japan’s global competitiveness and revitalization. To achieve this, the Council highlighted the need for Japanese universities to comprehensively internationalize the educational content of their programs and academic environment and foster future, active global leaders.