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Messages to Their Second Century

Push Further for a Word-Class University with Strong Individuality

Quantum Leaps Corporation, President
Nobuyuki Idei

Nobuyuki Idei is a leader of Japanese industry and currently works with great energy in the international scene. Idei spoke with us regarding his opinion on the future form of universities.

Time in University: Studying, Enjoying Time, and Making Friends

--What things do you remember from the time you spent as a student at Waseda?

When I think about my life after graduation, my time as a university student was the final peaceful 4 years of my life. The classes were boring so I didn’t listen very attentively, but I studied English and other subjects that interested me by myself. My major was international economics, and I researched comprehensive European integration and international institutions. There were many wonderful teachers at the Waseda University Affiliated Senior High School, and I clearly remember the classes in French and the classics. The Affiliated Senior High School has a great atmosphere even now. Two years ago, I visited the school as a guest speaker at the school festival. I received many questions from the high school students and I felt that they were very dependable.

I took photographs from the time I was in high school until college. I even won a few contests, and I was seriously considering becoming a professional photographer. I entered the Photography Club and took photographs of society, such as scenes of student protests. However, after a certain point, I felt the limits of my talents, and I quit the club after saying something selfish like “I’d rather have my picture taken than take pictures of others!” Even now, photography is one of my important hobbies. When I look back on my time in university, I met my wife, who was also a member of the Photography Club, and I made a lot of friends. I had a pleasant and enjoyable time.

Both Students and Teachers should have a High Sense of Pride

--What do you feel when comparing Japanese universities with foreign universities?

When compared with the world’s top universities, the energy level at Japanese universities is not even worth comparing. For example, Tsing Hua University, which is the representative university of China, is extremely strong in science. Tsing Hua University considers America’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a rival, and is seeking to become a first-class university on a world level. You can feel the pride that students have in their elite university just by looking at their faces. Tsing Hua University also adapts to changes such as internationalization with rapid speed. Reportedly, two-thirds of the classes at the university are already taught in English.

When you take a broad look at the universities of Europe and America, both Stanford and Harvard are unified with the community surrounding their campus, and both display a unique individuality. I don’t feel that kind of individuality in Japanese universities. I believe that this is the result of mass produced education that values harmony over the challenge of new ideas.

It is no exaggeration to say that Japanese universities are still performing education in the age of Charlie Chaplin, even as the world is rapidly changing.

Also, for many of the instructors at Japanese universities, there is no sense of urgency that comes from constantly being subject to external evaluation. In large corporations, there is a system in which a consultant assigns a score based on understandability to speeches that are given within the company, and quickly issues a report on the speaker. One must always be conscious of evaluation in the world of business, but I feel that there is little criticism present in the profession of a university instructor. In my opinion, a first-class instructor is someone with quick footwork, someone who is always surrounded by lots of people and involved in heated debate. If instructors have solid pride in themselves as first-class and strive to become No. 1, this kind of consciousness will naturally spread to the students, and the teachers will become respected.

The Need for Education which Develops a Creative Mind

--What will be sought in university education in the coming age?

Universities today seem to be concerned only with amount and size when recruiting students. What is important is the perspective of searching for education that will develop people who will be of use to the next generation. What kind of knowledge will be required 10 years after the person enters society? I believe that a required skill will be the ability to symbolize and theorize objects and events. Case studies are important, but even if that kind of studying is done exclusively, the world changes at a very rapid pace, and the knowledge gained from case studies will soon become ineffectual. Instead, the ability to perceive the essence of objects and events should be developed.

A creative mind is required in this age. Dr. Leona Esaki has stated that while the creative mind continues to decline from age 20, the judicious mind continues to increase, and the two reverse positions at around 45 years of age (diagram). In such a case, the 4 years in the beginning of a person’s 20s, a time when a flexible mind is possessed, are an extremely important time. For a 20 year old person, the 4 years spent at university account for 20% of that person’s life until that point. However, those 4 years are only 5% or 6% for a 70 year old person. I hope that students take on many new challenges and make the most of that precious time. During that time, I would like students to find a strongpoint where they can express their own creativity and to develop that creativity even further.

Quoted from “Change according to Age” by Dr. Leona Esaki

Dr. Peter Drucker was an accomplished cello player. However, at a certain point, Dr. Drucker realized that even if he was able to become a member of an orchestra, he could never become a soloist at his level. Realizing this, he gave up becoming a cello player. A member of an orchestra plays by following the lead of a conductor, but a soloist is able to express their own music. Dr. Drucker realized that his dream of becoming a soloist could not be realized, and he chose to express his creativity as a scholar. At universities, there is a need for education that identifies a student’s own strongpoint and locates a place where that strength can be developed.

Also, I believe that the division between the arts and sciences will change in the near future. There are an increasing number of students with double majors in America. This is because outstanding students are proficient in either area and possess an interest in either area. To begin with, it is not possible to understand without studying economics, statistics, and mathematics. The future will be an age where there are no borders for the arts and sciences in double majors. It is necessary for universities to establish a system which can support the direction of change.

--What are your expectations for Waseda University in the future?

I want Waseda to strive to become a world-class university. Waseda has already attained a certain level of excellence, so I want the university to embrace challenges and push forward even further. It is useless to mindlessly deny that Waseda is a large university for mass produced education. Waseda’s issue for the future is how to create small opportunities for the solid development of every single student within a large university.

Nobuyuki Idei

President of Quantum Leaps Corporation. Chairman of the Sony Advisory Board, Director at Accenture, Director at Red Herring, Director at Baidu.

Born in Tokyo in 1937. Graduated from Waseda University Affiliated Senior High School and Waseda University School of Political Science and Economics I. Entered Sony Corporation in 1960. After working overseas in Switzerland and France, served as Chief of the Audio Division and then as Director. From 1995 to June of 2007, served as President, Chairman/CEO, and Top Advisor. Founded Quantum Leaps Corporation in 2006.