RIETI Policy Symposium

Universities of the Future from Social and Economic Perspectives


Opening Remarks

FUJITA Masahisa (President and Chief Research Officer, RIETI / Professor, Konan University / Adjunct Professor, Institute of Economic Research, Kyoto University)

With continued globalization, advanced countries and many newly-industrializing countries are undergoing major changes related to the transition to the knowledge-based economy. The university is one of the institutional systems that hold the key to this process of transition. As the totality of the social systems of the world economy undergoes crucial changes, universities will not be able to respond to the societal needs of the 21st century if they retain their old structures from the 20th century. In recent years, many countries have undertaken efforts to reform their universities. Japan is no exception.

In light of these developments, the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry created a study group in fiscal 2007 for the purpose of formulating policy recommendations concerning university governance from a medium- to long-term perspective. While keeping an eye on interrelations with various disciplines, this study group has engaged in multifaceted discussions involving experts in the fields of law, economics, and education.

We hope this symposium today will provide the impetus for important developments and advances in Japan's university-related discussions, which currently appear to be deadlocked.

Keynote Speech: "International Competitiveness of Japanese Universities"

The keynote speech given by Dr. Taizo Yakushiji began with a survey of current university-related discussions in the Council for Science and Technology Policy, and was followed by ten questions concerning issues in university governance that need to be discussed in the future. Important perspectives were outlined for examining and discussing these issues.

  1. Japanese universities are constituted within the confines of rigid social systems and structures. Hence, mobility is extremely low among both professors and students. To increase mobility, it will be necessary to review the rigidity of such internal systems and the policies for seniority, remuneration, retirement, and retirement allowances.
  2. The mode of establishment of universities is related to the goals and purposes they are expected to fulfill.
  3. To whom do universities belong? This question needs to be discussed with an awareness of whether a correct answer or realistic answer is being sought. We must be aware that there are those who become university professors for the purpose of gaining social status, and there are students who do not study.
  4. In the case of Japan, the market does not determine the social status of universities. Admission to a high-ranking university is considered to be an act of filial piety on the part of students. This indicates that university rankings contain socially significant aspects.
  5. The answer to the question of whether a university will grow or decay depends on whether the university is viewed as an economic unit or as a robust stronghold. Unless they are viewed as economic units, there is a strong possibility for Japan's national universities to fall behind at the international level. The important question is at what level a university will wither and what level will it continue to grow.
  6. Can universities be viable investment choices? This question has to be considered based on the identity of the provider of funds. If the funds come from taxes, how will universities be accountable to the taxpayers? If the funds come from student tuition, greater thought will have to be given to the needs and convenience of students.
  7. Regarding the internationalization of universities, Japanese universities will have to consider to what extent they will take in foreigners.
  8. How necessary is it to enter university? This question needs to be discussed anew, including the question of whether a university degree can be a guarantee for one's livelihood.
  9. The social functions of universities need to be reviewed.
  10. Finally, thought must be given to the university order in general. Should changes and transitions be allowed to occur naturally, or should they be designed? The following options in inter-university order exist: "hegemonic stability type order" seen among the former national universities of Japan; "balance-of-power type order" seen in the state university systems in the United State; "interdependent-type order" seen among university consortiums; and "nation-state type order" seen in the German university system. These alternative orders need to be examined in light of their specific strengths and weaknesses.

It is necessary to formulate well-conceived responses to the ten questions that surround university reform in Japan.