Today’s blog post comes from Andrew Powell, Bursar, who has recently returned from Japan.

Followers of the Master’s blog will have observed that it is the travelling season! One of my responsibilities as Bursar is to nurture the eighteen-year-old relationship between Fitzwilliam College and the Tsuzuki Educational Institution Group – which is a joint relationship, shared with Fitzwilliam and St Anne’s College, Oxford. Each year it is our fascinating duty to go to Tokyo and to Fukuoka to participate in the formal Matriculation ceremonies, meet with our alumni in Tokyo and to visit our students – up to ten in number across the two Colleges – who are spending a year in Japan as holders of the ‘year in Japan’ scholarships offered by the Japan University of Economics, which is a member of the group.

Tokyo

Left to right: Sebastian Dakin (Oriental Studies 1990), Peter Rackowe (Oriental Studies 1990), Andrew Powell (Bursar), Professor Takeshi Kido (Visiting Fellow 1988), Graham Courtney (MML 1977)

For our students, the year in Japan is a wonderful opportunity, and competition for places on the scheme is high. They spend half their day in Japanese classes, and spend much of the rest of their week teaching English, either in the school owned by the same Group, or privately. But they also have time to explore. Fukuoka where they are based is only forty minutes by direct international flight from South Korea, one and a half hours from Shanghai, and just over four hours from Beijing. They have made good use of their time: when we went out to dinner on the final evening of our trip, we heard tales of visits to all of those places as well as exploration of Japan itself. To meet them at this stage of their time in Japan is a healthy reminder of the amazing range of opportunities that Fitzwilliam has to offer, and at the same time a call to build on them to enrich the possibilities for future students.

The visit also offers a rare chance to see the world, our College, and our University through different eyes, in meetings with alumni and with the Chancellor and senior directors of the Tsuzuki Educational group – who are kind hosts and generous providers of the student programme.

In our small sample of people we found little concern about the economic situation. There is optimism about Prime Minister Abe’s economic strategy, and apart from the recent rise of 3% in the sales tax and concern over energy costs as a result of the falling Yen, little sense of inflationary pressure. However I did detect some concern about Japan’s place in the world, especially in the context of the dramatic rise of China as an industrial power. Our hosts were concerned to know how Japan is perceived in the West: they value western education enormously, but their economic view is firmly fixed on the Pacific Rim, China and the relationships with and between Korea, Japan, Singapore and rising markets in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It was sobering to realise that there was little interest here in events in Crimea and Ukraine.

Alongside the changing economic and political landscape the long term domestic issue is demographic. Japan’s population is ageing, and a steadily shrinking workforce is having to support a rising retired population. It was clear from conversations during our visit that this is affecting the whole educational structure. There are no longer enough Japanese students to fill the places available in their Universities and schools; their response is to rationalise and to internationalise.

So, with its developed economy and long-established trading relationships, Japan sees both the necessity and the opportunity to become the educational centre of choice for all of the emerging economies of the region. With characteristic focus the Government has just announced a further 70,000 student visas, taking the total number of overseas students in Japan to 190,000. They have a target to issue 300,000 by 2020 – a similar number to those currently issued by the UK.

The Tsuzuki group of eight Universities on 13 campuses is at the centre of this change. It is the number two University for international students amongst Japanese Universities, drawing them from Korea, China, Vietnam, and Thailand. At the Matriculation ceremonies, many messages of congratulations to the new students were read out; among them a long message from the Prime Minister.

The English language is recognised everywhere as the key to unlock the global door. Most of the students come from backgrounds where there is no opportunity to learn English, so they come first to language schools in Japan which act as feeder institutions for the Universities.

Further down the educational chain, the Government, recognising that Japanese educational qualifications do not enable their students to access international Universities is pushing the International Baccalaureate; from a standing start it is pushing to establish 200 schools to become IB accredited by 2017. The Linden Hall High School, one of the four secondary schools run by the group, is one of the first to achieve this accreditation and starts its first IB courses this year. The associated elementary school conducts its affairs entirely in English, so the pupils receive ‘total immersion’ in the language from the earliest stage. In summary: Japan, driven by both domestic and international factors, is declaring itself ‘open for business’.

By an odd coincidence, on the morning of our departure, the Today programme carried a story highlighting the significant drop in the number overseas students coming to the UK. The fall in the number of EU students is thought to be due to high tuition fees; among non-EU students, UK immigration rules and procedures are deterring students. From an external perspective the procedures seem daunting and to carry a high probability of failure. Applications have to be made in precise windows, and if rejected the process has to start again from the beginning, meaning that there is often not enough time to reapply before the course starts. Once the visa application is submitted there is no provision for amendment if errors are found – even the smallest errors can lead to rejection. We also know from our College experience that we are losing postgraduate students for other reasons, including the restrictions on bringing family to the UK and on the right to work post degree.

We cannot assume that English will remain the global language of choice forever, nor that Oxford and Cambridge will be able to maintain their reputations at the top of the global league tables if the top students are deterred from coming. The University staff work extremely hard to support and assist overseas students coming to Cambridge, but surely this is an issue which requires us all to put our heads above the political parapet?

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

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