Reforming Asia's higher education systems in the digital age


Ema at Tokyo's Yushima Tenman-gu Shinto shrine, a popular destination for students hoping for success in the exams.
Photo credit: 
Flickr user Aaron Webb

The University of Tokyo, the National University of Singapore, and numerous other Asian higher education institutions appear in the annual worldwide rankings of top universities.

Education, so closely linked to economics, is an increasingly global competition in the digital information age. Many Asian policymakers are now pushing for higher education reform—and not merely as a matter of academic prestige. They believe strong, innovative higher education systems will pave the way for their countries’ future economic and political strength.

Looking comparatively at situations across Asia and in the United States, the Stanford Kyoto Trans-Asian Dialogue considered possible solutions to the challenges of reforming higher education today. This annual event, the fourth since Shorenstein APARC established the Dialogue series in 2009, took place September 6 and 7 in Kyoto. It concluded with a public symposium and reception at the Kyoto International Community House.

In an interview before the event, Gi-Wook Shin, director of Shorenstein APARC, spoke about the mission and history of the Stanford Kyoto Trans-Asian Dialogue, and about the significance of this year’s theme.

From where did the idea for the Dialogue originate, and what makes Kyoto an ideal location for the event?

The Dialogue is dedicated to establishing ongoing policy-oriented conversations between the countries of the Asia-Pacific region. For several years, my Shorenstein APARC colleagues and I envisioned having an annual forum in Asia where scholars and practitioners from the United States and Asia could come together. The Stanford Kyoto Trans-Asian Dialogue, established in 2009, represents that vision.

Forums on Asia-Pacific regional issues have historically taken place in the United States, but seldom actually in Asia. The Dialogue is about engaging and learning from multiple perspectives—it is not a one-way conversation. Each year, we identify an issue of major significance to the entire Asia-Pacific region, including such themes as: energy and the environment; regional political structures; and demographic change.

Kyoto, the home of the Stanford Japan Center (SJC), offers the perfect setting. Stanford and Kyoto have enjoyed a close relationship since SJC was founded in 1989, and Kyoto is both a beautiful and an international city.

Who are some of the experts who will be participating this year, and why will the issue of reforming higher education become increasingly important in the coming decades?

One of the Stanford Kyoto Trans-Asian Dialogue’s strongest features is the participation of both academics and practitioners in the conversation. We exchange views with one another, but we also seek to make a positive policy impact in our respective countries.

This year, we have several top-level academic administrators involved in the Dialogue, including current or former university presidents, vice presidents, and provosts. We also have officials who are involved in government-level higher education reform. These are some of the key people who are helping to shape the future of higher education in the United States and Asia.

Reforming higher education has become a major issue in many countries in Asia, especially Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan. This is related in part to global economic competition, and also to academic prestige. These countries often look to American colleges for a model, but there are many lessons to be found within Asia itself. The Asia-Pacific region abounds with higher education institutions, from those that are only a few decades old to those that are a century or older.

How does the Dialogue help Shorenstein APARC stay connected with its friends and alumni in Asia? 

Former visiting scholars and fellows to Shorenstein APARC take part each year in the Stanford Kyoto Trans-Asian Dialogue. Some of our donors even attend. We are fortunate to have a large network of alumni and friends throughout Asia, including scholars, researchers, government officials, business executives, non-profit leaders, lawyers, and journalists.

We conclude each Dialogue with a public symposium and reception at the Kyoto International Community House, which a number of our Corporate Affiliates Program alumni always attend. This year, in conjunction with the Dialogue, we are also holding a reception in Tokyo. We are looking forward to reconnecting with a large number of our Shorenstein APARC friends and alumni living in Japan.  

The annual Stanford Kyoto Trans-Asian Dialogue is made possible through the generosity of the City of Kyoto, the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, and Yumi and Yasunori Kaneko.