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EDITORIAL | Students Sent Abroad Key to Reviving Japan's Lead in Research

Japanese students and researchers should be encouraged to study in other countries and bring back what they learn to "compete with the world."



Shohei Ohtani — Japan’s first home-run king in Major League Baseball. (©Kyodo)

Japan's science and technology and R&D capabilities have been in a protracted decline. There is another serious problem, however. That is, the declining number of students and young researchers studying abroad and entering doctoral programs. 

Consequently, it is feared that the ranks of human resources who will lead the next generation in Japan will shrink.

In contrast, let’s turn our gaze to the world of sports.

Japan's men's national team won FIFA World Cup soccer matches against Germany and Spain. Our men's national baseball team won the World Baseball Classic. And our men's basketball and men's volleyball teams have outright qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics. In all cases, athletes who play overseas have been the core and mainstay of the national teams.


The Value of International Experience

These players have experienced the world's top-level competition firsthand. They have established their own style of play transcending language and cultural differences. As a result, they have become the driving force behind national team lineups "capable of competing with the rest of the world." 

The significance of international exchanges and going abroad to work would surely be the same for scientific research as for sports. 

Dr Ayuko Hoshino studied and worked abroad before returning home to open her own lab. She is seeking to cure cancer. (©JAPAN Forward)

Aiming to 'Compete with the World'

It is important to expand support for domestic universities and research institutions. However, the most important issue for revitalizing Japan should be the reenergizing of international exchanges

Japanese students and researchers should be encouraged to study in other countries. We should aim to create a team that can "compete with the world" in scientific research. 

The financial burden and obstacles to later job hunting are given as the main reasons for the decline in the number of students studying abroad. 

Yuta Watanabe
Japan's Yuta Watanabe grabs a rebound against Australia in a 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup Group E game on August 29 at Okinawa Arena. (©Issei Kato/REUTERS)

Changing Business, Embracing New Thinking

It is not that today's students are inherently "inward-looking." Rather, the truth is that they have become "inward-looking" as a result of trying to adapt to the current state of Japanese society. 

The financial burdens of students studying abroad need to be reduced or eliminated. This should be done by expanding public and private sector support and reviewing employment and hiring practices. 


Currently, job hunting coincides with the 3rd and 4th years of undergraduate programs and the two years it normally takes to complete a master's degree. Those are the very periods when students tend to consider studying abroad as a gateway to becoming researchers. Not only is this a factor that discourages students from studying abroad, but job hunting also cuts into the time students have to devote to their research. 

To eliminate these harmful effects, the job hunting period needs to be significantly shortened. Otherwise, more flexible recruitment methods should be adopted. 

Recruiting someone who has studied abroad or immersed himself or herself in research overseas would undoubtedly prove beneficial to a company. Therefore, businesses in general, not just individual companies, should abandon their "only fresh seedbeds" mentality and build a hiring pattern that "optimizes the rice harvest." 

Breathing new life into overseas study and international exchanges could prepare the soil for producing many "Shohei Ohtanis" in the fields of science and R&D. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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