An Update from the Dean Stronach
TUJ Taking the Lead
March 9, 2015
The 2015 spring semester is now well underway and for all of us here at TUJ there is a very positive buzz in the air. This spring we have the highest undergraduate (UG) full time student enrollment of any semester in our history. The spring enrollments are a direct knock-on from a strong fall 2014 UG enrollment increase in full time, non-study abroad students, and new students; therefore given our average 90% retention rate, we could predict that the fall trend would continue into the spring and beyond. Nevertheless, even though we predicted the trend, we were surprised at its strength. Never before spring 2015 have there been as many UG students in the spring semester as there were in the fall semester.
There are several factors driving the increased UG enrollment. For overseas students the most important factors have been both resurgence in interest in Japan and a weakening of the yen. The weak yen has meant a decrease in real tuition for overseas students and that makes TUJ a much more attractive choice. However, decreased tuition is of no importance if students do not want to come to Japan and TUJ to study. It is interesting to note that while both real and apparent increased interest in China over the past 10-15 years has tended to overshadow Japan (so-called "Japan passing"), general interest in Japan has remained strong. For example the 14 million tourists who came to Japan in 2014 was the largest number ever. The consistent interest in Japan as a destination for American students studying abroad often gets overlooked in the "Japan passing" perception. In the 2008/09 academic year about 5,700 US students studied abroad in Japan and the figure was virtually the same in 2012/13. There is no doubt that increased interest in China has driven increased study there; in 1999-2000 only about 2,500 American students studied in China but in 2012/13 14,413 students went. However, in the future interest in China as a study abroad location may decrease given recent events including a crackdown on foreign higher education and Western liberal values. If interest in China as the premier Asian study abroad location begins to wane it will be interesting to see if American study abroad to Japan continues to remain steady, as it did when interest in China was growing, or will increase as study abroad to China decreases.
On the Japanese domestic side, I believe that the increased interest in international liberal arts education has had a tremendous benefit for TUJ. Instead of creating competitors that would draw students away from TUJ, it has created an atmosphere that recognizes the importance of what TUJ does, and has always done, for higher education in Japan. The administrative and educational reforms that are being enacted in Japan in order to increase the global competitiveness of Japanese universities, especially in attracting study abroad students, are to a great extent based on the policies and practices of American universities because they are by far the biggest destination for world-wide study abroad. Therefore, those students who are interested in having the benefits of studying at an American university will naturally choose TUJ, the only American full university program in Japan. The extent to which TUJ has become a model for Japanese universities can be seen clearly in two specific areas, academic advising and internships/career development. Because many Japanese universities have visited TUJ in order to learn more about how we administer ourselves as an American university, we have decided to hold a symposium for Japanese universities at the American Embassy this coming summer.
I have been involved in the binational discussion designed to increase Japanese-American study abroad and what's really interesting about the discussion is the element of risk and comfort. We know through many surveys that Japanese students don't want to study abroad in the US, or anywhere else, because they are too comfortable at home and don't want to bother to learn a foreign language. We also know that Japan is a risk-adverse society. However, Japanese society must increase its global competitiveness which means educating a labor force that can interact positively with non-Japanese inside and outside Japan. There is no doubt that everyone's first concern is safety but if all risk is eliminated, how will the students learn how to develop coping skills? To use an analogy; if you never are exposed to bacteria, you never develop an immune system.
American students coming to Japan are more accustomed to accepting and coping with risk; their issue is different but related. One of the elements of risk, or getting out of your comfort zone, is to have the feeling that the sense of security you have had as a child has ended. That security is manifested primarily through communication with friends and family. A college student may be 7,000 miles from home and feeling a sense of independence, but as long as they are able to connect 24/7 through email, text, skype, Facebook, etc., with the folks back home how far out of their comfort zone will they really be?
This seems especially relevant to an old-timer like me who in 1976 had to rely on once-a-week aerograms back home. (Pop quiz, how many people reading this even know what an aerogram is?) No doubt I had a greater perception that I was well and truly on my own when I first arrived in Tokyo, but the whole experience of study abroad is to learn how people live in foreign places and how to live with them in that place. Therefore, given that the world is now completely interconnected with instantaneous communication, today's study abroad experience means being simultaneously connected to home and the place you are living. To again use an analogy, we could have every American student coming to Japan take a ship, as used to be the case, in order to make them understand the real distance between the two countries, but of course that is as ridiculous as telling them they have to leave their smart phones, tablets, and PCs back home when they come to Japan.
So, although the world is much smaller in terms of time of travel and much more connected in terms of ease of instantaneous global communication, that interconnectivity itself is the reason to promote studying in other countries. Global skills will be an absolute social and professional necessity in tomorrow's world, and whether our students are American, Japanese or any of the 60 other countries they come from, I like to think that their understanding of that basic truth is the reason they are coming to TUJ.
With best regards,