The history of Ritsumeikan University dates back to 1869 when Prince Kinmochi Saionji, an eminent international statesman of modern Japan, created a private academy on the site of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. In 1900 the academy became an officially recognized law school. Beginning with just one program and one site, guided by its founding spirit of ‘ freedom and innovation’, today this highly respected institution has grown exponentially. University President Mikio Yoshida explains how his institution is working to produce graduates with a strong international outlook and the skills required to be constant producers of knowledge in an increasingly fast-paced and digitized society
This university is over 100 years old. How has it evolved to become what it is today?
From relatively small, local beginnings, we have evolved into an international organization consisting today of three main teaching campuses, 35,000 students, over 1,300 full-time faculty members, and a great diversity of programs across the humanities, social sciences, literature, and sciences. Arriving at this point has been a journey of innovation. Guided by our founding spirit, in adapting to the needs of society and changing times, we have opened new campuses and developed a significant number of new, groundbreaking programs over the years.
To mention just a few landmarks of particular importance, Biwako-Kusatsu Campus was opened in 1994, with a focus on interdisciplinary education, and Osaka Ibaraki Campus, with a focus on adaptable learning and community and governmental collaboration, in 2015. Both have enabled us to greatly expand the range and depth of programs on offer.
And we are continuing to evolve innovatively. This April we opened a brand new college, the College of Gastronomy Management, with the cooperation of Le Cordon Bleu, an international institution specializing in culinary and hospitality education, aiming to develop gastronomy as a new academic discipline. Students will be able to graduate with an Advanced Diploma of Culinary Arts and Management, an internationally recognized certificate, along with their Bachelor’s degree.
Ritsumeikan has recognized the importance of globalization from its origins. How is it working to increase its international profile today?
A big event for us was in 1988 when we established our College of International Relations. The next step came in 2000 when the Ritsumeikan Trust, under the umbrella of which Ritsumeikan University operates, established Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU), representing the biggest step in our efforts towards globalization. Both universities, as part of the Ritsumeikan Trust, have more recently been designated ‘Top Global Universities’ by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)
In April of this year the College of International Relations set up a joint degree in collaboration with the Washington-based American University, and we have reached a partnership agreement with The Australian National University (ANU) to set up a new college, the College of Global Liberal Arts, in April 2019. ANU ranks 24th in the QS World University Rankings and is well known as an international research center. We will invite faculty from ANU to come teach here and we will send Japanese students to ANU as part of an exchange program. Graduates of this College will hold a dual degree from both universities.
Japan is putting great effort into Society 5.0, where different jobs will be required. How is Ritsumeikan University preparing for that?
There is a long history about how modern Japanese society developed. First, we looked abroad for models and used those models to produce and export our goods. Japan is now a developed nation, but in order to further develop and nurture our people, it is no longer enough to gain knowledge from others: now it is important to actually create new knowledge ourselves, a knowledge that is going to be continually reviewed and improved. We would like our graduates to acquire that skill of being able to deal with this constant creation of knowledge. Our students need to be able to keep opening up to new fields, to immerse themselves in different specialties and set up their own careers. That is the skill I would like our students to have.
Speaking of changing realities, what is this university doing to reflect and encourage increased diversity within the student body and faculty?
The first diversity-related point that we are focusing on is bringing in more international exchange students, international degree-seeking students, and international faculty. We have a lot of international undergrads and faculty in comparison with other universities in Japan. The results of a recently published comprehensive survey of universities in Japan, carried out by a well-known, reputable independent organization, placed Ritsumeikan University 3rd overall nationally for number of undergraduate international students, and 1st for the number of international faculty members. We are also encouraging domestic-level diversity by attracting students from all parts of Japan.
And of course, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, which operates under the same Trust, is a very good example of diversity. We based this university on the premise that 50 percent of students would be overseas students and 50 percent of professors would be international; classes are taught in English and Japanese, and we have students from 90 different countries at this university.
At Ritsumeikan University, in collaboration with The Australian National University, we have also recently set up an international research exchange program aimed at young and upcoming researchers; as well as a brand new undergraduate Joint Degree Program, which started in April 2018.
In terms of diversity, you could also talk about race, disability, gender and more, but right now, in addition to international-diversity, we are focusing on bridging the gender gap and encouraging more women to join. In particular, we would like to increase the number of female students in our science-based colleges. And if we are to welcome more women to these colleges, we must also bring in more women professors as role models that students can look up to.
What is Ritsumeikan’s competitive advantage? How do you attract students?
A big part of our appeal is that we have programs that allow students to both apply, and then study, in English, and no Japanese at all is required for certain programs, which makes it easier for them to approach us. Also, we have international dorms on each campus, which accommodate a mix of Japanese and international students, and serve as hubs of mutual understanding.
You have programs for overseas students, but how do you promote an international experience for your Japanese students?
Going overseas is a very big intellectual stimulus, so we have outbound programs ranging from one week to two years. We also have an ambitious program called Campus Asia, which is an agreement between us, Guangdong University in China and Dongseo University in South Korea. Students from each university live and study in all three places, learning the languages in the process. If all goes well, by graduation they will speak four languages, including English, and will have made friends and connections in three countries. This program has been extremely well received by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology because of its innovation and excellence, and will likely be a model for others to follow.
Education is at the root of economic development. What do you feel is the role of higher education in contributing wealth to the Japanese economy?
We are at a point in time when new creation and constant innovation are required, so there is a relationship between education and the economy. In that sense, higher education has a crucial role to play in the economy. Ritsumeikan University is ready and prepared to make a significant and lasting contribution to this by ensuring all our graduates are equipped, not simply with an international outlook, but with the skills to adapt to an ever changing knowledge-based society.