Japan's top university looks to Yale

Posted by: Ian Rowley on November 30, 2007

It’s been a long time in coming, but Japan’s universities are belatedly waking up to the fact that they must do more to raise their international profile. This week, I stopped by at the University of Tokyo, Japan’s leading center of learning, to discuss a new initiative between the 130-year-old school and Yale.

One aspect of the initiative, in the shape of a new social studies and humanities research facility established at Yale this fall, is to provide facilities so researchers can research Japan-related themes in a Western university environment. That, says Todai, will lead to more Japanese social science academics publishing in English and, hopefully, raising the global profile of their work. That might seem obvious, but Japan’s social scientists, unlike peers in the sciences and manufacturing-bases fields, are rarely cited outside their home country.

Of course, one project from a top school is unlikely to have much of an impact on the wider international reputation of Japan’s universities. Indeed, the recent ranking of global universities by the Times of London, which Bruce Einhorn discusses below, made grim reading for Japan’s academics. Only three Japanese universities made the top hundred, compared to 37 American and 19 British schools. Todai, ranked 19th, is the best performing Japanese institution, followed by the Kyoto University (25th) and University of Osaka (46th). Well-regarded private universities, such as the Keio and Waseda, didn’t make the top 150.

Critics point out that such surveys aren’t scientific and seemingly have an Anglo-Saxon bias. Nevertheless, that China, headed by Peking University in 36th place, also occupied three slots in the top 100 shows that Japan institutions must raise their game.

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