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Top>Education>Nurturing policy creation skills—Developing human resources by “practical learning”—


Hirokuni Iijima

Hirokuni Iijima [profile]

Nurturing policy creation skills
—Developing human resources by “practical learning”—

Hirokuni Iijima
Professor of Public Economics and Economics, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University

1. Introduction

On November 9 (Sat) and 10 (Sun), 2013, the 16th Student Rally hosted by the Japan Public Choice Society (JPCS)[1] was held on Chuo University’s Tama Campus. At the rally, second and third year students from universities around the country participate in teams and put together and present an essay on a common topic, which is then judged by teachers from the participating universities, with the winners receiving the Kato Award (first prize and merit prize). This prize was established with the aim of encouraging student research and was named after the first president of the JPCS, Professor Hiroshi Kato. In the section for third year students of the 16th Rally, the Akira Yokoyama Seminar team from our Faculty of Policy Studies won first prize, while in the section for second year students, the team from my own seminar in the Faculty of Economics also won first prize[2].

In this essay, while also taking into account my experience as chairman of the 2013 Kato Award Selection Committee, I will give an outline of the Student Rally and the results, and report on the activities of my seminar toward the Student Rally[3].

2. Outline and results of the JPCS Student Rally

The aim of the JPCS Student Rally is to have policy recommendations on social issues from the standpoint of students. Furthermore, through that process it aims to improve essay production and presentation skills.

For the overall schedule, first the students must follow a style sheet[4] and submit their essay by the designated deadline. On the day of the Student Rally, the Kato Award winners are decided[5] after a two-step judging process, with preliminary judging of presentations, and then judging of the essays of the teams that pass through the first round. At the closing ceremony, where all participating teams are present, the Kato Award winning teams are presented their prizes, with the first prize winners giving presentations to promote joint ownership of their research results.

The Inter-University Seminar for the Future of Japan and the WEST Research Paper Meeting are organizations which hold the same aims as the JPCS Student Rally. However, unlike those organizations, the Student Rally sets a common topic. Of course, one of the pros and cons of setting a common topic is that a conclusion will not be simply reached, but the biggest merit of a common topic is promotion of student growth through competition mechanisms[6]. I will touch upon this more later when I explain about the activities of my seminar.

When setting the common topic, having the final say as chairman of the Kato Award Selection Committee, I considered the following points.

  • The topic must have a theme that will hold importance with the students, even after graduation.
  • Avoid limiting the topic where possible to leave ample room for the students to think for themselves.

By taking the two points above into consideration when setting a common topic, I believe that students will use their competitive spirit and thoroughly think things through, allowing for an opportunity to grow.

At the 16th Student Rally we set the following common topics for the second and third year students respectively.

Second year topic:
What industrial structures need to be constructed for Japan’s economic recovery?
Third year topic:
What macroeconomic policies need to be managed for Japan’s economic recovery?

In regards to the students, we also gave explanatory notes with the topic announcement[7]. In compliance with that, the students are forced into thinking about many things. First of all, it is necessary to think about what “Japan’s economic recovery” means. Furthermore, the second year students need to think about what kind of industry to focus on, and the third year students need to think about what kind of management is required in both fiscal policy and monetary policy.

In this type of environment, the participating teams compete with their unique policy proposals. Furthermore, through the essay production and presentations, the students can learn what is needed to be assertive in a persuasive manner.

3. Activities in preparation for the JPCS Student Rally

The topic for the JPCS Student Rally and explanatory notes are usually announced at the start of the new term. On receiving those, the second and third year students in my seminar start preparations for their essay from before the summer holidays.

Essay preparations usually move forward by interpreting the topic, presenting an awareness of the issues, analyzing the current situation, and proposing a policy, and more. In producing the essay, I give my students the following four pieces of advice.

  • Prepare a flowchart of the framework of the essay, devise communization of understanding among the team members, and furthermore, ensure the explanation of the gist of the essay is easy for the reader to understand.
  • Take ample consideration in maintaining the consistency in the standard of values which will be the foundation of the essay, and make it clear.
  • In making policy recommendations, consider whether it is technically and politically feasible.
  • Make the “genuine” contribution part of the essay clear. To be more specific, give original names to models (mathematical or descriptive) used in analyses and policy packages, and reflect them in the title of the essay.

Other than the above, what I do is sometimes ask about the essay’s progress, and introduce literature related to areas where the students have questions or where they may have overlooked. I do no more than that. This is because, if I do any more than that, there is a high probability that the students will stop thinking for themselves.

Furthermore, in managing the seminar, I keep the following two points in mind. The first being, do not “corral” the students. For example, I advise the students to actively go and talk with professors who major in the field of the essay’s topic. The other point is, I do not “look down” on the students. In other words, I do not believe that the teacher and student relationship is fixed to teaching and being taught. There are times where students look up things I did not know, so I think it is important to be fully aware that the teacher can be taught by their students. By paying attention to these two points, I believe that the students will think things through even more positively.

The students write their essays in this way, create Power Point presentations based on those essays, and through about five straight years of participating in the JPCS Student Rally, competition mechanism effects start showing through in seminar activities. “Competition” involves emulation, and it is mainly emulation that we see here[8]. In other words, starting by imitating the results of Student Rally prize winners, the students now aim to create works exceeding those. In order to accommodate these student activities, for the essay, students are able to freely read every essay from past JPCS Student Rallies on the homepage, and in regards to the presentations, as mentioned earlier, the first prize winners give a presentation at the closing ceremony.

The effects of competition mechanisms are not only seen in horizontal relations between seminar students, but also appear in strengthening vertical relations. Specifically, from the feeling of wanting to see the younger second and third year students win a prize, fourth year students with experience at the JPCS Student Rally give detailed instruction on the essays and presentations. Furthermore, the vertical relations have also extended to strong relations with seminar graduates. For example, there are times when graduates also give guidance on essays, and at social events between past and present seminar students, the Student Rally becomes a common topic, which is also useful in strengthening the organization of the seminar.

Participation in the JPCS Student Rally also has secondary effects. This can especially be seen in that there are also students, who from their experience in writing an essay with a limit of 57,600 characters in their second year, gain a certain amount of confidence in essay writing, and, as a result, submit essays to competitions hosted by non-academic institutions. Of those, there are also students who have won prizes.

These kinds of competition mechanisms bring about positive results, but especially in regards to the competitive emulation aspects, there is also the fear of envy from one’s success. However, the JPCS Student Rally is a competition between university teams (not individuals), and furthermore, because the competition is limited to second and third year students, it can be said that it is difficult for the negative effects of competition mechanisms to evolve.

4. Topics for the future

When thinking of the standing of the JPCS Student Rally program, I believe it is useful to think of the relationship of a basic education → “problem solving type” program → “problem discovery/solving type” program. The “problem discovery/solving type” program is a program that includes everything from the discovery of a problem to the finding of a solution strategy, and the “problem solving type” program is one where you search for a solution strategy of a posed problem. The Student Rally program can be considered to be a “problem solving type” program.

Incidentally, I think “problem discovery/solving type” programs are deemed more important than “problem solving type” programs in modern society. Consequently, I believe that it must be said the Student Rally program has its limitations. However, I think that you can acquire higher problem discovery skills by tackling a “problem discovery/solving type” program after experiencing a “problem solving type” program, rather than tackling the “problem discovery/solving type” program immediately after learning basic education. That is because it is necessary to possess a framework for looking at things to discover a problem, and through experience at the “problem solving type” Student Rally, you can possess a framework for looking at society. Accordingly, regarding students who have experienced the Student Rally, on top of demonstrating the limits of a “problem solving type” program, I believe it is necessary to encourage students even more to raise their problem discovery skills based on what they have accumulated through that experience.

Also, the “problem solving type” Student Rally is indispensable for further enriching basic education. In other words, based on present data analysis, in order to make a highly feasible policy proposal, it is necessary to adequately acquire economic theories and positive analyses. However, compared to the past, the content included in the basic education of the economics field is gaining in volume and quality. For that reason, the situation is that many students are not taking enough basic subjects in the field of economics, and various universities are taking measures against that. In our Faculty of Economics, in the “Chuo University Program for Promoting Improved Education Function” starting in April 2014, activities to enrich education in basic economics subjects will be executed. In the future, as one of the people involved from the planning stage of this program, I would like to rank the JPCS Student Rally as one project of applying the results of this program.

5. Conclusion

I believe that the “friendly rivalry” mechanism in a competitive situation, which I introduced in this essay, can be applied in various ways. For example, various programs to improve the competency of students have been set up in many universities. However, among those programs, there are cases where only a few students can be seen to show an interest. One of the reasons behind this is that systems to raise students’ motivation have not been created along with the design of the main body of the program. I believe that the application of this “friendly rivalry” mechanism can be a system for raising their motivation.

Economics is joining hands with law, politics, sociology, philosophy, and psychology etc., and expanding interdisciplinary research. Public choice is one of those interdisciplinary research fields, and furthermore, is one of the basic policy-related fields that has also had an effect on actual policy planning[9]. I believe that the Student Rally, where public choice is learned and policy proposals from the viewpoints of students are trialed, is in the founding spirit of this university, and as a science stressing “practical learning” is in line with “fostering the ability to apply knowledge to practice.” In the future, I want to continue the activities introduced in this essay and produce human resources who have acquired “practical learning.”

  1. ^ The JPCS was established in 1996. Professor Yoshiaki Kobayashi (Faculty of Law, Keio University, Vice-President of the Science Council of Japan) is President as of March 2014.
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  3. ^ I am indebted to Professors Naomi Maruo and Hiroshi Kato, who taught me at the two universities that focused on “practical learning” when I was at university and graduate school, and all those related to the economic policy seminars of these two professors who guided me for the initiatives reported in this essay. Also, I would like to make clear again that any descriptions relating to evaluations of the JPCS Student Rally are my own personal opinions, and not official stances of the JPCS.
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  6. ^ The introduction of the competition mechanisms in the Student Rally is based on my experience in the Keio University Faculty of Economics Hiroshi Kato Research Society (seminar). The following literature is on the Hiroshi Kato Research Society system. Atsuo Kawai (2007) Sessa Takuma Keio Gijuku – Katou Hiroshi Zemi ni Manabu Jinzai Ikusei (Friendly Rivalry – Human Resource Development Learnt in the Hiroshi Kato Seminar, Keio University) Japan Productivity Center
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  8. ^ The following literature by Chuo University Faculty of Commerce professor Yoshio Inoue is on competition.
    Yoshio Inoue (2014) Futatsu no “Kyousou” – Kyousoukan wo Meguru Gendai Keizai Shisou (2 Kinds of “Competition” – Modern Economic Ideology Surrounding Sense of Competition) Kodansha Gendai Shinsho
  9. ^ In the JPCS journal Koukyou Sentaku (Public Choice) Volume 61 (March 2014), in which I worked as head of the Editorial Committee, there is a special tribute to public choice originator and 1986 Nobel Prize in Economics winner James Buchanan. By reading essays contained in the special tribute I believe you can understand the basic thinking behind public choice.
Hirokuni Iijima
Professor of Public Economics and Economics, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Born in Tokyo in 1964. Graduated from the Faculty of Economics, Chuo University in 1987. Completed his doctorate in the Graduate School of Economics, Keio University in 1993. In the same year worked as an assistant professor in the Faculty of Economics, Chuo University. Later became assistant professor and associate professor and started current position in 2013. Currently works as head office secretary of the Japan Economic Policy Association, Japan Association for Planning Administration director, Japan Public Choice Society secretary, and Japan Forum for Research in Public Policy councilor. Publications include Kokyo Keizaigaku (Public Economics) (coauthored, 1998, Toyo Keizai), Posuto Fukushi Kokka no Sogo Seisaku (Comprehensive Policy for a Post-Welfare State) (coauthored, 2001, Minerva Shobo), Tekisutobukku Koukyou Sentaku (Textbook Public Choice) (coauthored, 2013, Keiso Shobo), and translated Mueller's Public Choice (co-translated, 1993, Yuhikaku), Feldman & Serrano's Welfare Economics and Social Choice Theory (co-translated, 2009, Center for Academic Publications), and Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter (co-translated, 2009, NikkeiBP).