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Globalization Strategies at Universities in Scandinavia

Tags: Europe , Sylff , Cultural Exchange , International Cooperation , Globalization , Education

Matsunobu, Akiko

June 17, 2008

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Akiko Matsunobu takes the opportunity of a recent trip to the University of Oslo and Uppsala University to discuss developments in higher education and the role of the Tokyo Foundation in a globalizing world.

 

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One of the programs administered by the Scholarship Division of the Tokyo Foundation is the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund, commonly known as SYLFF. Established in 1987, this fellowship program aims at fostering future leaders capable of tackling various challenges with global viewpoints that transcend cultural, national, and other "boundaries" at a time when the world is experiencing ever-faster globalization. SYLFF is currently offered at 68 universities in 44 countries. Its overall scheme is unique: the Nippon Foundation contributes US$1 million to each recipient university, and each university manages the fund according to its needs and priorities, disbursing the proceeds of the contribution to graduate students in the form of fellowships.

While every region in the world has its own cultural and social background, the concept of "leader" also differs from place to place. That is the very idea behind the SYLFF Program: We believe that local universities are most capable of fostering leaders that can address the situations in the countries in which they are based. Thus we entrust the management of the funds and selection of fellowship students to the discretion of each university. More than 10,000 students have been selected as SYLFF fellows (recipients of fellowships) since the first fund was set up at Tufts University in the United States 21 years ago. A significant number of the fellows are now playing key roles in their respective societies and fields of expertise.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Uppsala University in Sweden and the University of Oslo in Norway, two Scandinavian universities receiving SYLFF. I would like to share with our readers my observations in the context of the situation of higher education in that region.

 

The Oldest University in Scandinavia

Botanist Carl von Linné named humankind Homo sapiens and is known as the father of taxonomy. Physician Carl Peter Thunberg visited Japan in the eighteenth century when it was a closed country, collected local plants, and built the foundation for the study of the flora of Japan. Dag Hammarskjöld, the second secretary-general of the United Nations, devoted himself to the cause of world peace, tirelessly working around the globe until his untimely death in a plane crash in Africa during a mission.

All of these people are deeply linked to Sweden's Uppsala University. Linné and Thunberg served as its vice-chancellor, while Hammarskjöld, who received the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously, obtained a bachelor of law and a master's degree in political economy from the university. Established in 1477 in the city of Uppsala, located about 70 kilometers north of Stockholm, it is the oldest university in Scandinavia. Including Hammarskjöld, to date the university has produced eight Nobel Prize laureates and has many eminent graduates in the fields of natural science, humanities, and social science, which speak to its high academic standards.

The SYLFF endowment for Uppsala University is the second oldest (set up in 1988) out of the 68 institutions that have received the fund. A commemorative ceremony was held on April 11, 2008 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of SYLFF's establishment at the university. This event was attended by the vice-chancellor, department deans, members of the SYLFF Steering Committee and SYLFF fellows, as well as a large number of teaching faculty and students from the university. All gathered in the convivial atmosphere at the Museum Gustavianum, one of the university's main historical buildings.

Over the past 20 years SYLFF fellowships have been provided to 56 people studying international issues at the university, including doctoral students and young post-doctoral researchers. Of these, 10 have become professors and another 10 associate professors. It allows young scholars to devote themselves to research as an alternative to undergoing a period of economic uncertainty at a time when they need to build up their academic achievements.

 

Norway's Oldest and Largest University

In 1989 the University of Oslo became the twelfth institution to receive SYLFF funding. Located in central Oslo, the university was founded in 1811 by King Frederick VI, the Danish monarch who ruled Norway at that time. As the oldest and largest university in Norway, it has played a great role in fostering national identity and establishing modern statehood, in keeping with its mission of fostering leaders. To date it has produced four Nobel Prize laureates in the fields of economics, chemistry, and peace.

As Norway's leading institute of higher learning, the University of Oslo was designated a domestic Center of Excellence (COE)* in nine fields and as a Nordic COE in two fields, including medicine, natural sciences, as well as humanities and social sciences. As such, the university boasts many excellent researchers and high research standards. The University of Oslo also makes substantial contributions to culture with its three cultural museums. The university's library assets, moreover, include one of the greatest collections of Tibetan mandalas in the world, with vigorous exchange programs underway with Tibet University. To date, 146 graduate students have been provided with SYLFF fellowships at the University of Oslo.

* A COE refers to a core institute where top researchers carry out world-class studies in a cutting-edge research environment. Specifically, a COE is required to assign leading researchers to the fields or themes concerned, employ cutting-edge technology to conduct the research and deliver groundbreaking research results. In Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) initiated the Twenty-first Century COE Program in 2002 as a policy aimed at establishing a COE program.

 

University Initiatives for Globalization

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Uppsala University has concluded more than 3,000 joint research agreements with over 1,000 universities throughout the world and has worked out arrangements regarding exchange students with more than 500 universities worldwide. By carrying out proactive joint research, the university intends to further strengthen its five main fields, namely: research on peace, security, and democracy; genomes; drug development; brain, cognitive, and behavioral studies; and energy supply and renewable energy.

In 2006 and 2007 the institution conducted a large-scale review of its university-wide research activities to identify those fields that have the potential to become more competitive in the future and incorporate them into future strategies and draft plans. This project was called Quality and Renewal 2007. Under this project, panels of experts—consisting of prominent scholars at home and abroad—carried out evaluations in their respective fields. The results of the evaluation were compiled in voluminous English reports, identifying the names of all of the researchers involved, and were disclosed to the public. These efforts reflect Uppsala University's enthusiasm for raising its level of research.

Internationalization is acting as a major impetus for the University of Oslo as well. Courses taught in English number 800, student mobility has doubled since 2001, and foreign students constitute 11% of the student body. Furthermore, partners in joint research have become more international, with research themes being set up from a more international and interdisciplinary perspective. The University of Oslo is also expanding overseas, opening research centers in Russia, France, Italy, Greece, Germany, and the U.K. in Europe; as well as three in Asia: in Beijing and Shanghai in China, and Delhi in India.

 

China and East Asia as Academic Markets

The University of Oslo is currently directing its energies inter alia toward China. The second highest number of foreign PhD students comes from China, after Germany. In terms of research interest and academic exchange, China's presence is rising remarkably. Immediately prior to our visit to the university, the University of Oslo sent a large delegation to China in order to further develop existing partnerships with Peking University, Fudan University,, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and others. There are reasons for this orientation toward China. One of them, according to Rector Geir Ellingsrud, reflects the university's desire to secure a firm footing at an early stage of China's emergence as a fully-fledged research power. Another is the wish to offer faculty members and students at the university greater opportunities for research with and on China. Rector Ellingsrud further mentioned his university is convinced that China will become a major partner in the international community. To create ties of shared values, he said joint studies and projects as well as researcher exchange can be beneficial. Through all these talks, I sensed a strong passion for China.

The University of Oslo also has strong ties with eight leading Japanese universities (e.g. Tokyo, Waseda, Keio, Hokkaido, Tokai Universities, and others), and an increasing volume of research with and on Japan in disciplines ranging from dentistry, biology , nanotechnology and astrophysics to Japanese language and culture, theology, democracy, criminology, education and more. There is also both student and researcher exchange between the University of Oslo and its Japanese partners, and a substantial volume of co-authorship. There is thus a good basis for further developing joint research activity through a research scheme under the Tokyo Foundation umbrella.

Uppsala University, for its part, has appointed an associate professor who has been residing in Tokyo since April 2008 as an academic exchange delegate. This is a research professional working as a direct contact for Japan-Sweden academic exchange. Through this initiative, the university's enthusiasm for creating a substantial joint research scheme was strongly felt.

 

The Role of the Tokyo Foundation

Both universities seemed to have a keen desire to ride the wave of globalization and further expand and raise the quality of the education and research they conduct as institutes of higher learning. This can be attributed to the concept of the Bologna Declaration on the European Space for Higher Education, which was signed by 29 European countries in 1999. This is an attempt to raise the quality of education and improve the appeal of European universities by increasing compatibility and fluidity among institutes of higher learning in Europe and through competition among regional universities. The fierce competition unfolding globally has not bypassed the world of higher education, the future of which will depend to a good extent on how each institution can develop its characteristics and appeal.

The Tokyo Foundation conducted a questionnaire survey on globalization at the SYLFF Program Administrators Meeting (at the University of Copenhagen) in January 2007. The responses from the 61 universities (from 42 countries) that participated in the meeting were of great interest in that they vividly portrayed their thinking and attitudes toward globalization. All of the universities responded that they are being affected by globalization. Many of their responses referred to positive effects, including the increased mobility of students and teachers and the greater diversity this engenders, higher academic standards, and the possibility of transnational alliances. On the other hand, increasingly fierce transnational competition and brain drain were among the negative impacts mentioned.

It does not seem easy to bring joint research with overseas partners to fruition. Common ways to attract research partners include: taking note of researchers whose works draw attention in academic journals and contacting them at international academic conferences and relying on them as liaisons in their countries to expand mutual partnership. This process often moves slowly due to difficulties in financing research and continuing joint research off-line. Cases are on the rise among young researchers in which experiments are conducted many times with colleagues whom they have actually never met, using IP telephones and the like. The process is a continuous trial and error among experts within their own fields.

These trends can be linked to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's publication in 2005 of the Guidelines for Quality Provision in Cross-border Higher Education. This can be seen as a step in the long-due standardization of the rapidly globalizing field of education.

The Tokyo Foundation has two pillar activities: policy research and scholarship programs. As such, we are seeking to be a bridge between overseas institutes of higher learning and research and Japanese counterparts in the field of the social sciences. Global issues are now closely interlinked with domestic policy. In this light, it is conceivable that the research reports and proposals that the Tokyo Foundation conducts for domestic policy may provide significant hints for overseas policies, with the reverse of this often being true as well.

If global competition among various policy research institutes contributes to making the world a better place, we are eager to help. Thus we are trying to assist overseas institutions that are seeking partnership with Japanese counterparts. It is in this spirit that we will continue our support for high-quality research and scholarship activities.

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