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Campus Now

Early Spring Issue (Apr.)

Message to the second century

Expectations towards Waseda University to propose a new form for society

Shinjiro Komatsu
Director, Private School Division Office for Higher Education
MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology)

Mr. Komatsu currently serves as Director of the Private School Division at the MEXT. He is involved in all facets of educational and research administration. Mr. Komatsu discussed the reason that he sought to enter the MEXT, as well as issues faced by private universities and expectations towards Waseda University from the perspective of his current position.

4 years of studying social mechanisms from the perspective of politics and economics

--How did you spend your student life at university?

I was just a normal, typical student for that time. In addition to my studies, I participated in club activities, worked a part time job and traveled. I majored in international politics. I entered the seminar taught by Professor Kenzo Yoshimura and studied the policies of different countries, with a focus on the U.S. I have a lot of fun memories from participating in the tennis club. I also remember my part-time job as a home tutor and being deeply moved by the development of children.

A truly wide variety of people gather at Waseda University and I had some friends who were quite complex. I was always impressed by the energy which continuously flowed from the university. One particularly memorable scene was a speech delivered by a professor emeritus at the university entrance ceremony. The professor quoted a passage from the bible which reads "the net which you have cast falls on good land for you." He discussed how our entrance into Waseda University was the result of some great power and how it was the best possible result for us. In ancient times, a net was thrown in order to determine the ownership of land. A person was granted the land which was covered when the net fell. At the time of the entrance ceremony, I didn't truly understanding the meaning of the professor's speech. However, in reflection, I spent a student life which verified the truth of his words.

--Why did you seek to enter the Ministry of Education?

In order to explain the reason in relation to my student life, it is necessary to begin by discussing my decision for studying at university. During high school, I had a strong interest in the humanities such as literature. I enjoyed discussing the meaning of life and many other topics with friends who had a similar literary interest. However, I felt a sense of urgency that my perspective would become biased and I would misunderstand the essence of society if I constantly associated with friends who shared the same interests. Therefore, in university, I decided to study social mechanisms from the perspectives of sociology, politics and economics.

However, as I studied the policy-making process of different countries, I actually felt the strong influence of varied and fluid emotions held by many people, as well as the memory of each generation from the distant past. Once again, my awareness returned to the mutual relationship between systems, policies, laws, regulations and social customs on one hand and the heart and spirit of mankind which cannot be explained using logic on the other. Therefore, after graduating, although I felt somewhat fearful of employment, I wanted to work somewhere that is an intersection of social sciences such as politics, economics and law, and human studies which deal with the spirit, such as human emotions and the desire to grow. I eventually obtained employment in education administration at the Ministry of Education.

Increasing the appeal of universities centered on founding spirit

--Regardless of whether they are national universities, public universities or private universities, all universities in Japan are facing tough international competition. What is required in order to survive this competition?

Universities are originally an international presence. It is important to return to this origin and to think about what kind of position should be sought within the world. International exchange, enhanced language education and advanced research are not enough to increase a university's presence in the world. There is a wide range of other methods for promoting internationalization. Some familiar examples are students using the internet to check information on their travel destinations and reading books in their original languages. For better or for worse, Japanese universities offer freedom to students. Even if students spend an aimless time at university, they can use the excuse that "I made independent use of my time." Furthermore, in some ways, even if students don't learn anything, they will be praised as "diligent" as long as they have a high attendance rate. Universities must act to create an environment in which students naturally engage in substantive study. Information on such actions and results must be actively transmitted throughout the world in order to acquire a stable feeling of trust.

Waseda University has made continually effort and is producing plenty of results. However, Waseda has sufficient potential to provide opportunities for even more meaningful education and to lead the form of university education.

--Private universities in Japan are facing a huge amount of issues. For example, students must deal with a difficult employment situation and a large economic burden, while universities must respond to discrepancies in academic ability and under-enrollment. What is expected of private universities?

Private universities must exhibit unique characteristics centered on their founding spirit and increase appeal while matching this characteristics to social change. In the case of Waseda University, focus should be placed on the first verse of the school song: "Eternal ideals which remember life on earth." The most important point is that diligent effort focused on "life on earth" is required to support the principle of earnestly seeking "eternal ideals." I remember how the same idea was expressed by Tomitaro Hirata, who was a prominent figure in social policy. In an article for a school newsletter, Mr. Hirata described his personal motto as "high aspirations with a firm grasp on reality." It is extremely difficult to maintain a balance between keeping sight of lofty ideals while not degenerating into empty boasts which make light of practical study and work. However, universities must show society that they are continually strengthening such a spirit.

Another point is that target students are no longer limited to individuals over 18 years old or of Japanese nationality. Private universities in Japan must provide educational opportunities to working adults and attract students from throughout the world.

Based on a broad perspective, universities must convey opinions backed by expertise

--What do you expect from Waseda University?

It is said that the form of Japanese society has changed after the Great East Japan Earthquake. However, in some aspects, I think the form of an already changed society has actually been highlighted. Even while Japanese people feel uncertain about the proper course of action and the world focuses on Japan's response, universities are the only sector of society that is capable of and expected to propose forms and mechanisms for a new society without being restrained by conflicting interests or the need to harmonize views. Such action cannot be undertaken by corporations, the government or mass media. Society is waiting for universities to convey information based on unique expertise and a broad perspective. I have heard that Waseda University has already undertaken this challenge. However, expectations towards universities continue to rise as uncertainty increases in the world. I hope that Waseda University exercises its unique diversity and vitality to lead the university sector in proposing a variety of new and powerful paradigms.

Shinjiro Komatsu
Director, Private School Division Office for Higher Education
MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology)

Born in 1956. Graduated from the Waseda University School of Political Science and Economics in 1981, entering employment at the Ministry of Education in the same year. Employed as Minister's Secretariat, at the Life-Long Learning Bureau, Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau, Higher Education Bureau, Science and International Affairs Bureau, Ishikawa Prefectural Office, and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Appointed to his current position in 2011.