School of International Liberal Studies Dean
PINNINGTON, Adrian J.
When the School of International Liberal Studies (SILS) was founded in 2004, it represented something of an experiment, not only for Waseda University, but for Japanese higher education in general. The new school had two special characteristics which set it apart from traditional Japanese university departments. One of these characteristics was that all classes in the new school would be taught in English. Related to this, the school aimed from the beginning to recruit about one third of its student body from abroad, so that Japanese and International students could study together. The other characteristic was that it would have a liberal arts curriculum which would allow students to choose freely subjects from right across the curriculum, from hard sciences to the performing arts. Of course, many people were concerned whether such a radical new experiment could possibly work.
In fact, over the last decade, SILS has proved to be a resounding success, winning fame for itself both inside and outside of Japan. Part of the reason for this success was the school’s good timing. Globalization meant that both Japanese and non-Japanese companies were increasingly aware of the need to internationalize their staff if they were to survive in an increasingly competitive global market. At the same time, more and more students had become aware of the advantages that a multilingual and multicultural background bring in the modern world. Moreover, Japan itself had developed an ever large profile on the world stage, with not only Japanese goods and companies expanding into every corner of the globe, but also with the increasing popularity of Japanese culture, from literature to anime, around the world. Added to this, SILS was a part of Waseda University, one of Japan’s oldest and most respected universities, and so students from both inside and outside of Japan could come to SILS knowing that they would receive a degree from a highly prestigious institution. These factors meant that from the beginning SILS was able to attract students of the highest caliber from every part of the world.
One common misunderstanding of SILS in Japan has been that it is primarily a place for learning English. Although it is true that the decision to have classes taught in English reflected our belief that languages are best learnt by actually using them, our aim was never primarily to teach English. Rather, we chose English because we believed that it would allow people from the maximum variety of backgrounds to live and study together. This does not only apply to students but also to teachers. In fact, just as one third of the students are from outside Japan, so too one third of the faculty are non-Japanese, including professors from the USA, the UK, France, Germany, China, Korea and elsewhere. In addition, most of the Japanese professors have graduate degrees from English-speaking countries and often have had long careers abroad before returning to Japan. English, in SILS, provides a level playing field where people with all kinds of different cultural backgrounds are able to meet and exchange views and in this way to learn from one another.
In this way, diversity has always been the key feature of SILS. This is true of the curriculum as well as the people. By offering classes from the hard sciences, the social sciences, the humanities and the arts, we give students a chance to explore and discover their own real interests, while at the same time learning how to see the world from the point of view of many different disciplines. In addition, in order to take advantage of the variety of backgrounds of both students and teachers, we provide seminars, where the small number of students allows for discussion and debate. Further, we encourage students to take advantage of Waseda’s world-wide relationships with universities around the world and to spend one year studying abroad (this is compulsory for students whose mother-tongue is Japanese). Another aspect of our emphasis on diversity is the attention we pay to learning a third or fourth language. Students from overseas are required to take Japanese for two years so as to ensure that they are competent in the language by the time they graduate. In this way, at a minimum, all of our students graduate with a good command of at least two languages, but many of them end up able to speak three or four.
Thanks to the excellent quality of the students we attract, as well as the unusual and wide-ranging education we provide, our graduates are now pursuing successful international careers in many different fields. Indeed, by entering SILS, it is possible to form a valuable network of friends and acquaintances across the globe. If you want to challenge yourself, and become a genuinely international person, then why not come along and join the vibrant, cosmopolitan community that is SILS?