There’s an interesting article over on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s site that discusses the three things that developing nations need in order to create a world-class university. While Japan is not a developing nation, they are trying to increase the number of world-class universities – and not doing a very good job of it. When the latest world ranking of universities were announced this earlier this year Japan dropped in the rankings. Reading The Chronicle article within the Japanese context is quite telling. Salmi & Altbach lists three items that are needed to create a world-class university.
First, nations need to attract a significant number of non-local talent, in other words: foreign professors, researchers and students. Attracting and keeping non-Japanese human resources is a problem that Japan struggles with in all areas of society, not just academic. Some of these problems for academia are summarized in a Japan Times editorial by Jay Klaphake.
Secondly, world-class universities are expensive and nations need to be realistic about the costs. Of the three this is the area that Japan struggles with the least. Although, the system isn’t perfect, the Japanese do spend a fair amount of money on higher education, even if there are problems. See Sawa for example.
Lastly, Salmi & Altbach say that nations need “strategic vision and leadership” to create a world-class institution. This is also an area where Japan struggles. There are often conflicting interests within the government and even within universities themselves, some of these conflicts are summarized by Chris Burgess also in the Japan Times.
Finally, Salmi & Altbach suggest that maybe developing nations would be better off by focusing less on world-class universities and more on universities that better serve the needs of their local populations. Whether or not that is appropriate for Japan is another discussion entirely, but I would urge everyone involved in Japanese higher education to look at Salmi & Altbach’s article and think about how it applies to their situation.