The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

The campus of the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST) is about as cosmopolitan as it gets in Japan. More than half of the students at this graduate school hail from elsewhere, making it something of a shining light among the country’s universities.

Of the total 819 students, 445 are not Japanese. There are 33 nationalities making up the international student body, with China, Vietnam, Thailand, and India topping the list. The school has 172 students from China, making them the largest foreign group.

That was not the original intention.

Set up as a graduate university without an undergraduate division in Nomi, Ishikawa Prefecture, JAIST chose to focus on information science and materials science, and began accepting postgraduate students from national universities throughout Japan in 1992.

However, within just a few years, JAIST began having difficulty attracting students as Japan’s leading universities started placing greater emphasis on their own postgraduate programs.

In search of new opportunities, the school began accepting postgraduates from other countries. To attract bright students, the university hosted a symposium in India, and started holding interviews and conducting entrance exams. Tapping the networks of its faculty proved another effective way of bringing in overseas students.

By 2004, the university had 142 foreign students on campus, and the number has grown ever since.
In 2014, the education ministry selected JAIST for its Re-Inventing Japan Project, which provides financial support to programs run by Japanese universities that foster globally active individuals and internationalization in higher education.

JAIST’s program supported student exchanges between Japan and India for about 20 people in both 2015 and 2016, with stays of up to three months. It now has an extraordinarily high percentage of foreign students for a Japanese science and technology university.

“India has so many college students, and now some of the highest-achievers are coming for postgraduate studies here,” explained professor Kohki Ebitani, who heads the university’s international student support center.

“The common language in the lab is Indian English,” said professor Noriyoshi Matsumi, who conducts research on batteries. All five postgraduates doing their doctoral programs in his lab are overseas students: four from India and one from the UK. “We joke that the guy from the UK is the one with the English accent,” he laughed.

Matsumi runs his lab with assistant professor Raman Vedarajan, who is also from India. Back when Vedarajan was a postdoctoral fellow, he conducted research on batteries under Matsumi at Nagoya University. He then returned to India, but two years later came back to Japan to join Matsumi when he moved to JAIST. “In Japan, once you have formulated a research plan you can study it intently,” Vedarajan explained.

Surabhi Gupta, a University of Delhi graduate, is in the first year of her doctoral program in Matsumi’s lab. “I came to Japan because I wanted to do cutting-edge research, and part of me wants to stay here,” she said.

The international makeup of JAIST is stimulating the Japanese students as well. Takahiro Yonezawa, who is working on his master’s degree in another of the university’s laboratories, stayed for a short time at the University of Delhi and came back from India inspired. “The enthusiasm of the researchers there was irresistible, and I am now determined to play an active role in the world as a scientist.”

JAIST Vice President Minoru Terano said, “Our hope is that when foreign postgraduates move back to their home countries they will serve as bridges to Japan and act as good partners when Japanese companies expand into their areas. Of course, we would also like for them to live and contribute as engineers and scientists here in Japan.”

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