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“It’s essential that students have a competitive spirit.”

We live in an increasingly globalized world where borders are becoming more and more blurred. In this context, observing the experience of other countries in education can be a useful exercise for many schools and, as a result, for their students. Akihisa Inoue, the president of the University of Tohoku in Japan, reflects on some of the key features of the global university system.

Akihisa Inoue
Akihisa Inoue was born in Hyogo, Japan in 1947. For over 30 years he has devoted himself full-time to science. He holds a doctoral degree in metallurgy from the University of Tohoku and now directs the same institution. He also heads the Institute for Materials Research.

Since the 1980s he has been carrying out research on amorphous metallic alloys, an area of specialization in which he is considered to be a leading expert. Dr. Inoue’s research also focuses on the physical properties of metals and non-equilibrium materials.

Akihisa Inoue is the president of the University of Tohoku in Japan, one of the 120 most prestigious universities in the world and one of the top 100 in the field of technology. Dr. Inoue travelled to Catalonia last June to take part in a scientific conference held at the Castelldefels School of Technology.

What role do Japanese universities play in the innovation process in Japanese industry?

I think that from the perspective of Japanese industry, universities play two key roles. On the one hand, they provide young researchers with an education that will enable them to achieve success in the future. And on the other hand, industry and universities collaborate on initiatives that deliver benefits for both partners.

What does your university do to foster entrepreneurial spirit in students?
This is one of the most important aspects of university culture in Japan. We have special programs aimed at helping students achieve their goals. It’s not easy to find students with talent. First we have to find the students and then we need to get to know them individually to determine whether or not they have the entrepreneurial spirit we’re looking for.
It’s difficult to reach a final decision about who can or can’t accomplish something in particular. We’ve been using the same system for six years and it works for us.

What do you think the key factors are when it comes to identifying and fostering talent in students?
To find the best students you need to pay attention to the ones who focus on the greatest challenges, the ones who are most creative. It’s essential that students have a competitive spirit.

Are there differences between Japan and Europe in terms of how students are educated?
I don’t know a lot about the European educational system, but I am aware of some differences between Japan and the United States when it comes to education. For example, in Japan students are younger and leave university with a complete education earlier than students do in the United States. But I couldn’t say which of the two systems is more demanding.

Is it difficult to gain admission to a university in Japan?

It’s very difficult. There are a limited number of university places. The government spends many millions of yen each year on university education.

Is having a university degree a status symbol in Japan?
Yes, it is. There are a very limited number of national universities in Japan. It’s an honor for students to attend one. The University of Tokyo is the most prestigious university in the country. The university I represent, Tohoku, is also one of the top-ranked universities in the Pacific region.

In Spain many people are admitted to universities each year. Is it the same in Japan?
I think it’s more difficult in Japan. Students must take an entrance examination, the same as in Spain, but it’s very difficult there. You need to have very high marks. Not everyone can get into university. Like in Spain, university programs have a certain cut-off mark assigned to them depending on the school and on demand.

The European Higher Education Area is a new educational model, one of the core principles of which is international mobility. What do you think of this?
In Japan we have something similar. Mobility has a key role to play in higher education. Students must be able to study, and they should be encouraged to do so in different parts of the world, provided that the studies they pursue are related to their interests. In Japan we provide support to students who want to study abroad. We have a number of agreements with countries and schools around the world to make this possible. These days university education clearly needs to have an international dimension. This is the future.

Will the European Higher Education Area lead to closer ties with Asia and with Japan in particular?
This is what we’re hoping in Japan. We want to promote relations with other countries and universities around the world. The government has been providing grants to support such programs for some time.

Is it difficult for a European student to go to Japan?
The Japanese government has specific programs to encourage European students to study at Japanese universities, but the problem is there aren’t many students interested in going to Japan to study. It’s very hard to find students who want to come.

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