I recently had the opportunity to talk with several students returned from semester- and year-length exchange programs at Japanese universities.
I was interested by some of their observations and would like to share them here: I think they contain some hints as to how to Japanese universities can present their programs more attractively to prospective international students.
The most interesting feedback from students related to their educational experiences in Japan.
Overwhelmingly, students said that the best classes they had taken in Japan were "zemi" - small-group seminar classes involving project research guided by a professor. Students had glowing reports of the interaction they had with their classmates (both Japanese students and other international students) and especially their professors. Students' comments included "I wish universities in my home country had classes like that", “they made me really feel part of the campus community”, and "this is what I call a real education".
Unfortunately, however, in some cases students were unable to get credit for these classes at their home institutions because the classes didn't meet the basic criteria for educational quality assurance: there was no clear syllabus or course outline, and only a very vague description of assessment tasks and educational outcomes. This suggests that the institutional requirements of "quality assurance", which are meant to ensure that students have a positive educational experience, can sometimes be very different from students' own perceptions of what a "quality" education actually is. This is an opportunity for universities (in this case, students' home institutions) to reconsider their assumptions about "quality".
These students' experiences also suggest that Japanese universities should be much more pro-active in promoting the benefits of zemi classes internationally. Zemi are of course not unique to Japan, but they are a quintessential part of the Japanese university student experience. So why not make more of them?
I'll share some other student insights with you next time.